Friday, September 10, 2010

Explosion Sets California Neighborhood Ablaze

A tremendous explosion apparently fueled by a ruptured gas line tore through a San Francisco suburb Thursday night, destroying dozens of homes, killing at least one and critically injuring several others, the authorities said.
The Bay Citizen

A nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization providing local coverage of the San Francisco Bay Area for The New York Times. To join the conversation about this article, go to

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A massive fire burned in a residential neighborhood in San Bruno, Calif., on Thursday.

The blast occurred in San Bruno, about 8 miles south of San Francisco, and was so loud and devastating that some officials initially suspected that a plane might have smashed into the neighborhood. Towers of flame shot 50 feet into the sky and a plume of ash-colored smoke hovered over the area. Aerial images showed multiple cars on fire and several homes completely consumed by a blazing fireball that stretched across an entire street.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the utility company that serves the area, said one of its gas lines had ruptured. But the company cautioned that the cause of the blast had not been determined, The Associated Press reported.

The explosion erupted about 6 p.m. Pacific time on a hillside near Interstates 280 and 380, in a residential area about two miles west of San Francisco International Airport.

The fireball destroyed 53 homes and damaged more than 100 others, and several people were taken to local hospitals, some with critical injuries, a California emergency official said and The A.P. reported. Joanne Hayes-White, the chief of the San Francisco fire department, said it was unclear precisely how many people were injured.

“This happened during the dinner hours,” she said. “There were probably a lot of people sitting at home having dinner at the time.”

The San Mateo County coroner and Dennis Haag, the San Bruno fire chief, confirmed one death from the fire, according to news reports. KCBS reported that two other people were found dead in a home.

Don Ford, a photo journalist, told The Bay Citizen that the blast left a deep crater dozens of yards wide. "Tomorrow morning, when the sun comes up, it’s going to be something out of Dante," he said.

Across the neighborhood, emergency officials went door to door ordering residents from their homes as San Bruno firefighters struggled to control the flames. Chief Hayes-White said her department had about 18 engines and trucks at the scene and about 50 firefighters attacking the blaze, according to local news reports.

Their efforts were hampered by strong winds, which appeared to be stoking the fire and increasing the risk of its spreading to more houses, Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency, told CNN.

“We’ve got aircraft and helicopters literally dropping retardant on homes to try to protect them from catching fire,” he said.

Chief Hayes-White said that officials looked into the possibility that the fire could have been ignited by a plane crash. But the Federal Aviation Administration had no confirmation that any plane was missing in the area. Instead, investigators thought a rupture in a high pressure gas line was more likely to have caused the explosion, she said.

Residents told The Bay Citizen that the utility company had recently investigated a gas leak in the area but did not take action. “They already knew about the leak and they didn’t do anything,” said Alex Monroy.

J. David Goodman contributed reporting.

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