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Explosion, Fire in San Bruno, CA Levels Homes, Forces Residents to Flee

Source: LA Times

Posted on 10 Sep 2010

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Leveling numerous homes and forcing residents to run for their lives, a massive explosion believed to have been sparked by a gas-line break produced an inferno that consumed a San Bruno, California neighborhood Thursday night. There are six confirmed fatalities and more than two dozen people were reported injured, some with severe burns.

The blast, which occurred shortly after 6 p.m., ignited a wind-driven fire that quickly destroyed dozens of homes, set tree tops on fire and illuminated the sky for miles around. Hours after the explosion, fire crews from around the state continued to converge on the scene, but their efforts were hampered by winds that reportedly reached more than 20 mph.

By 2 a.m., San Bruno Fire Captain Charlie Barringer stood on Glenview Drive a block above Claremont Drive, surveying the damage as firefighters pointed their hoses at the smoldering remains of a half dozen homes.

The power was still out. Spot fires were still burning in yards near the charred remains of station wagons, the air thick and acrid. Many houses remained eerily untouched, SUVs still parked in the driveways, solar-powered garden lights burning, newspapers wrapped in plastic still lying where they were tossed on the grass Thursday morning.

Barringer has been based at the local station for the past three years, one of three firefighters on Engine 52, the first to respond to the explosion.

“I thought a 747 had landed on us,” he said. “It shook our station right to its foundation.”

Within a minute, he had sounded a four-alarm fire, he said. Soon after, he said firefighters discovered a gas line had exploded, destroying not only homes but the grid of water mains that supplied the local fire hydrants. His crew had no water to fight the fires.

“We were overwhelmed. We had multiple neighborhoods on fire,” he said.

Barringer said the neighborhood has not had problems with gas leaks in recent years. A PG&E crew of several men with hard hats, shovels, an earth mover and two trucks was out at the corner of Claremont and Sneath Lane as he spoke, digging through the concrete, but they referred questions to a spokesman. Neighbors standing across the street claimed a gas line runs nearby, and a slight scent of gas was in the air Friday morning.

Barringer said that when his engine first responded to the explosion, the crew strung together hoses to pump water from two to three miles away. By 2 a.m., they were still using the hoses. Police and coroner’s investigators roamed the darkness with flashlights, snapping photographs, setting up road blocks with flares and saying the area was considered a crime scene.