Big explosion and fire destroys San Bruno homes

Leaping flames visible from much of the Bay Area

A major PG&E gas-line explosion and fire visible from much of the Bay Area has devastated a small residential area in San Bruno, destroying numerous homes.

San Bruno city officials said at a news conference Thursday night that fire crews are working to hold the fire, and the city's priority is the safety of those battling the blaze and those affected by the tragedy.

San Bruno Fire Chief Dennis Haag said he was confident that crews would be able to continue holding the fire and that it would not consume more land or homes than what was already affected.

At an earlier briefing, the fire was reported to be 50 percent contained. Cal Fire has said 53 homes were destroyed at about 120 damaged. A later estimate raised the damage to 150 homes.

Haag said that a high-pressure gas line was likely to blame for the fire, but that the cause has yet to be confirmed.

The need to completely shut down gas lines is impeding firefighting efforts, Haag said, because those gas lines have residuals that need to be eliminated before crews can access the area for a search.

PG&E president Chris Johns said after the news conference that crews are currently working to stop the flow on the main gas transmission line and will then cut off flow through the distribution lines to individual homes.

Johns said that the company would "fully cooperate" with the investigation and explore unconfirmed witness reports of the smell of gas in the area before the explosions.

Without access to the gas lines, Johns said it was too early to speculate on the cause of the explosion, although he said PG&E was unaware of any of its crews working in the area this evening.

"It's a tragic event, and we really want to make sure that we can make this area safe right now," Johns said.

Johns vowed that if the investigation finds that PG&E is at fault, "We will do the right thing for those involved."

City manager Connie Jackson said that city organizations are fully mobilized to assist residents but are focusing on identifying and locating all those affected.

Jackson repeated directions for those affected to report to shelters at Veterans Memorial Recreational Center, located at the corner of Crystal Springs and Oak avenues, and at the Veterans Memorial Gym at San Bruno Park.

"It's urgently important that resident who have been evacuated or who voluntarily evacuated check in with the emergency hotline," she said. "This is our immediate priority other than the response that will continue on the scene."

San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane, who was on hand at the briefing, said that his main concern is making sure the citizens of San Bruno are safe.

"I would ask anyone who sees this broadcast tonight to say a special prayer for those people," Ruane said.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Questions????
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2010 at 7:51 am

Did PAFD send help? Our thanks to the brave and tireless men and women of all the FDepts.

Did PA utilities help?

What can we in Palo Alto do to help our neighbors in San Bruno (there but for the grace of God, could have been us)? Thanks to all the local help agencies who were there from the beginning providing immediate needs.

Is blood needed and what can local donors do to help?

How can we be sure that something similar doesn't happen here?

Our thoughts and prayers to all in San Bruno and their families and the emergency and aid workers.

Like this comment
Posted by Beware - TWO Pipelines in PA
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Sep 10, 2010 at 8:33 am

Folks, go here

to see a map of major gas pipelines in the U.S. Turns out Palo Alto has TWO, one running along Middlefield, and a branch that goes down Page Mill to Foothill Expressway then runs north along Junipero Serra. When the next large earthquake comes, this could matter.

Like this comment
Posted by Reluctant Siliconer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 10, 2010 at 8:48 am

A friend just posted this online with a map image. It's exactly what I thought when I saw where the explosion was:

The map is from The red line is the approximate location of the San Andreas fault. I've put in a marker for where the explosion was (next to the fault). I'm not a structural engineer, but I can't imagine strain on fixed, underground infrastructure from fault slippage is a good thing.

Like this comment
Posted by Reluctant Siliconer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 10, 2010 at 8:51 am

Questions??, I heard the sirens going off en masse at about 6:30 here in PA, and there was a call for all help in the area, so I'm sure our town helped out. There is an emergency appeal for blood donations, esp. universal donar type O pos. Here is a link:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by donate
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 10, 2010 at 8:56 am

The Chronicle is advising people to donate to the Red Cross: Web Link and the Blood Centers of the Pacific: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Reluctant Siliconer
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 10, 2010 at 9:06 am

Here are some reader comments from the LA Times online:

The San Andreas Fault runs literally right alongside Skyline Blvd. in that area, cross from the east to the west side of Skyline within 100 yards of Sneath Lane and Skyline. Seismic activity is a very plausible cause for this devastating accident.


There is a theory that suggests widespread low level seismic activity is slowly breaking apart underground pipes, bridges, and other parts of the infrastructure.

Earlier this year there were numerous incidents, far above the usual, of ruptured underground water pipes and resultant floods in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley.

Persons living in dense urban areas with thousands of water, electric, sewer, and gas lines underground below their homes are especially vulnerable.

In the older cities on the East Coast gas lines are over 100 years old and often rupture, suddenly exploding and causing instant death to those unfortunate enough to live above them.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 10, 2010 at 9:19 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Unless there was some digging in the area, the most likely cause of the failure would be a failure of the corrosion control system of wrap and cathodic protection.
One accident of natural gas distribution seems to have killed more people than U. S. commercial nuclear power production in its entire existence.

Like this comment
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 10, 2010 at 9:31 am

SteveU is a registered user.

My big questions are:
"Who was monitoring the flow rate/pressure drop on this line?"
Almost 2 hours to respond and cut-off the flow is absurd.
Alarms should have rung as soon as the flow spiked or the preasure dropped at later stations.

Why are there not automatic "rupture" cutoff valves like on the propane tanks that are used for backyard BBQ's
Are there "Earthquake" valves like on newer homes, that cut the flow in case of a "big one"
You just have to push a plunger to reset the one on a house, but sending someone to "Check and Reset" seems a small price to pay considering what just happened.

Like this comment
Posted by leak reported 2 weeks ago?
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 10, 2010 at 10:09 am

Channel 7 news last night said that residents reported smelling gas in the air at least 2 weeks ago. PG&E had crews searching for the leak, apparently not very effectively.

Like this comment
Posted by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Sep 10, 2010 at 11:18 am

Sue Dremann is a registered user.

Palo Alto police Chief and Interim Fire Chief Dennis Burns said this morning:

"Palo Alto Fire Department was placed on standby last night but was not requested. We would have responded as part of a county-wide strike team. The engine we would have sent would have been from Stanford Station (#6). CAL-Fire and CAL EMA sent some units but I believe that most of the response was handled with in-county (San Mateo County) resources."

Like this comment
Posted by anne
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 14, 2010 at 1:00 am

late 1960's El Carmelo School blew sky high from a gas leak. There is a major gas line that runs from El Paso down El Carmelo and Waverley. It was 6am on a Sunday I remember it was Halloween. It blew us out of bed. PG&E found a number of high pressure gas leaks along the line. It was a huge inferno we had debris raining down on our neighborhood. A whole wing of the school was destroyed...basically the K-2 class rooms.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

After experiencing harassment, owner of Zareen's restaurants speaks out about Islamophobia, racism
By Elena Kadvany | 28 comments | 6,404 views

Don't Miss Your Exit (and other lessons from an EV drive)
By Sherry Listgarten | 12 comments | 2,159 views

Goodbye Food Waste!
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 2,058 views

"Better" Dads and "Re-invigorated" Moms: Happier Couples
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,478 views

The kindness of strangers
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 632 views


Register today!

‚ÄčOn Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More