San Bruno Fire: Gas Line Explosion Burns San Francisco Suburb

A natural gas pipeline explosion ripped through a neighborhood in a San Francisco suburb on Thursday, starting fires that burned more than 50 buildings and killing at least one person, officials said.

A ruptured fuel line erupted into an intense fireball that killed at least four people on Thursday night in San Bruno, about eight miles south of San Francisco. The blast was so loud and devastating that some officials at first thought that a plane might have smashed into the neighborhood. Photo: Flickr

A natural gas pipeline explosion ripped through a neighborhood in a San Francisco suburb on Thursday evening, , sending up a geyser of fire that killed at least one person and injured more than 20 others, and igniting a blaze that destroyed 53 homes and damaged 120 more, authorities said.

As many as 25 people were injured by the blast and flames in San Bruno, a few kilometers from the San Francisco International Airport, and have been taken to local hospitals and hospitals with burn treatment centers. The local coroner’s office reported one fatality.

The utility company that serves the San Francisco Bay area said one of its gas lines ruptured in the vicinity of the blast, which left a giant crater and sent flames tearing across several suburban blocks in San Bruno just after 6 p.m.

Flames shot hundreds of feet into the sky. Aerial images showed cars on fire and several homes completely engulfed by a fireball that stretched across an entire street. By Friday morning, the fires were 75 percent contained, according to Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado. Photo: Flickr

“If it is ultimately determined that we were responsible for the cause of the incident, we will take accountability,” Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said in an e-mailed statement.

Flames hot enough to crack a fire engine windshield incinerated 53 homes and damaged 120 as crews continued battling the blaze into the night. At least one person was confirmed dead in the blast, San Bruno Fire Chief Dennis Haag said.

The fire had spread to 10 acres and was 50 percent contained late Thursday, said Jay Allen, spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency.

Between 150 and 200 firefighters were at the scene, Haag said. More than 100 people were being sheltered at nearby evacuation centers, but no estimate of the number of residents missing was available, he said.

“We know that a natural gas line ruptured yesterday around 6:24 p.m., but we don’t know what caused it or what happened,” the lieutenant governor said. “We will find out soon.” Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the utility company that serves the area, confirmed that one of its gas lines had ruptured. Photo: Flickr/European Press Agency

Witnesses said the explosion shot a fireball more than 1,000 feet in the air and sent frightened residents fleeing for safety and rushing to get belongings out of burning homes.

After the blast, flames reached as high as 100 feet as the fire fueled itself on burning homes. Planes and helicopters flew over the neighborhood dumping water.

San Bruno Fire Capt. Charlie Barringer said the neighborhood was engulfed by the time firefighters arrived, even though the fire station was only a few blocks away.

He said the blast took out the entire water system, forcing firefighters to pump water from more than two miles away.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates pipeline accidents, said on its Web site that it was sending a four-member team to the scene. Photo: Flickr/European Press Agency

Haag said firefighters initially had trouble getting close enough to the ruptured gas line to shut it down because of the flames.

Connie Bushman returned home to find her block was on fire. She said she ran into her house looking for her 80-year-old father but could not find him. A firefighter told her he had left, but she had not been able to track him down.

“I don’t know where my father is, I don’t know where my husband is, I don’t know where to go,” Bushman said.

Victims suffering from serious burns began arriving at San Francisco Bay area hospitals shortly after the blast. An estimate of the number of injured wasn’t immediately available.

Hospitals reported receiving about 20 injured patients – several of whom were in critical condition – and they anticipated getting more.

Firefighters were hampered by strong winds overnight into Friday morning; the winds appeared to be stoking the fire, endangering more houses, Kelly Huston, a spokesman for the California Emergency Management Agency, told CNN. Photo: Flickr/European Press Agency

Firefighters poured water on the remaining flames and smoldering wreckage early Friday morning in California after a deadly, giant explosion sent fire ripping through a neighborhood south of San Francisco. At least one person was killed and 50 homes were destroyed in a suburban area in San Bruno.

Utility officials said a gas line ruptured near the blast just after 6 p.m. on Thursday. The resulting explosion sent a fireball roaring more than 1,000 feet in the air and sent terrified homeowners grabbing their belongings and running for safety.

San Bruno Fire Chief Dennis Haag confirmed the fatality and said he did not know how many were injured. “It’s going to take us until at least tomorrow into the afternoon to do a full research,” Haag said Thursday night.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which serves the San Francisco Bay area, said in an e-mail that they were to blame for the incident and that they would “take accountability.”

A total of 38 structures had burned to the ground, and 7 more were damaged, Mr. Maldonado said. Photo: Flickr/European Press Agency

After the initial blast, flamed burst as high as 100 feet, obliterating nearby homes and parked cars. At least 120 homes were severely damaged. The fire spread to 10 acres, and approximately 200 firefighters remained at the scene over night.

The explosion wiped out the entire water system, which forced firefighters to pump water from more than two miles away. California Lieutenant Gov. Abel Maldonado, acting as governor while Arnold Schwarzenegger is out of the country, declared a state of emergency in San Mateo County.

Judy Serrsseque was seen walking down a hill away from her flames with her husband, a makeshift wagon carrying important documents, their medication and three cats. She said they fled after hearing the explosion and saw the fire was heading towards their house.

“We got everything together, and we just got out,” said Serrsseque. “Mostly we’re wondering if we have a house to go back to.” [via Huffington Post, Vancouver Sun and San Francisco Gate]

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