No one hurt after construction crew strikes gas line in San Francisco

Fountain of flame burned for two hours before line was capped

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

SAN FRANCISCO — No one was injured in an suspected gas-line explosion Wednesday afternoon, but it took PG&E crews some two hours to choke off a gas-fueled fire spout after the blast.

Shortly after 1:10 p.m., firefighters responded to reports of the explosion and fire near a construction site in the 3300 block of Geary Boulevard at Parker Avenue.

The first call from San Francisco fire dispatchers to firefighters described a “gas rupture,” with “possibly something burning.” About two minutes later, a firefighter reported to dispatch seeing flames shooting skyward from about six blocks away on Masonic Avenue.

Vallejo resident Adrian Burrell said he happened to be in a ride-share vehicle nearby when the explosion happened.

“It was right directly in front of us,” Burrell said. “I was talking to the driver and she suddenly screamed. There was fire and flames, and people were running toward the car.”

Burrell said the driver tried to back up, and eventually managed to turn the car around and drive into oncoming traffic lanes to get away.

“It was so big and so crazy. I smelled the gas. I just hope everybody’s okay. You don’t expect something like that to happen,” Burrell said.

Responding firefighters made sure the area was evacuated and set up water lines on the fires, but the flames could not be controlled until the gas line feeding the fire was choked off. At least one shelter-in-place alert was called for nearby buildings and a pre-school and middle school campus.

The fire was up to three alarms by about 2 p.m., burning four buildings on the block, including the popular Hong Kong Lounge II dim-sum restaurant. Five workers were briefly reported to be missing, but San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said later they had been found safely and that there were believed to be no injuries and no one missing.

Hayes-White said preliminary assessments appeared to show that a private contractor’s construction crew had been working on a fiber-optic cable when the rupture happened.

In a tweet, PG&E said the “[f]low of gas was stopped at 3:36 p.m. after a third-party construction crew – unaffiliated with PG&E – struck a gas distribution pipeline,” and added that about 300 customers would be without gas and 2,500 electric customers affected until fixes were complete.

A statement shared Wednesday by Oakland-based Local Clean Energy Alliance decried what organizers perceived to be a needlessly delayed response.

“The No PG&E Bailout network recognizes that this pipeline explosion could have been a whole lot worse, but to know that PG&E is unable to turn the gas off in time to respond to this potentially catastrophic situation is outrageous,” the statement read.

“We continue to call attention to PG&E and the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) continued gross negligence that puts workers’ and residents’ lives at risk. We reaffirm our commitment to ratepayers, by fighting the PG&E bailout and call for a public takeover of our electrical and gas utilities, in order to make it accountable to public and worker safety.”

  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA – FEB. 6: A fire burns in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, after a contractor struck a gas line on Geary Boulevard at Parker Street. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • Onlookers at the intersection of Parker Avenue and Anza Street watch as firefighters and PG&E workers battle a gas-line explosion and fire in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Firefighters and PG&E workers battle a gas-line explosion and fire in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Firefighters and PG&E workers responded to the scene of a gas-line explosion and fire Wednesday afternoon on Geary Avenue in San Francisco. (Kaitlyn Bartley/Bay Area News Group)

  • Firefighters and PG&E workers responded to the scene of a gas-line explosion and fire Wednesday afternoon on Geary Avenue in San Francisco. (Kaitlyn Bartley/Bay Area News Group)

  • Firefighters and PG&E workers battle a gas-line explosion and fire in San Francisco, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. (Doug Duran/Bay Area News Group)

  • Firefighters and PG&E workers responded to the scene of a gas-line explosion and fire Wednesday afternoon on Geary Avenue in San Francisco. (Kaitlyn Bartley/Bay Area News Group)

  • SAN FRANCISCO, CA – FEB. 6: A fire burns in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, after a contractor struck a gas line on Geary Boulevard at Parker Street. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • Onlookers gather behind a police line near the site of a gas-line explosion and fire Wednesday afternoon on Geary Avenue in San Francisco. (Kaitlyn Bartley/Bay Area News Group)

  • Journalists gather behind a police line near the site of a gas-line explosion and fire Wednesday afternoon on Geary Avenue in San Francisco. (Kaitlyn Bartley/Bay Area News Group)

of

Expand

Because the neighborhood has a mix of commercial and residential buildings, some who live nearby were not likely to be able to go back to their homes Wednesday. An evacuation order was still in effect for residents at least one block in all directions from the fire site. Red Cross Bay Area staff responded to the area to tend to some residents, and city staff said a reunification site was available at Mel’s Drive In, 3355 Geary at Beaumont Avenue.

Police also responded to block off traffic along nearby streets. Geary is a major artery for San Francisco traffic; the closure caused several bus routes to be moved and traffic was heavy all around the area.

Caroline Gasparini, 25, and Kaitlyn Johnson, 24, were in their apartment a few doors down just before the explosion.

“We were in the living room, and what caught our attention was our windows started to shake,” Gasparini said. “There’s so much construction noise that you usually assume it’s a truck. Then we saw flames that shot up that were above the building, just shooting straight up, and we decided to gather our stuff and exit.”

Johnson noted that neighborhood residents responded fairly quickly, even before police and firefighters arrived.

“We saw the pre-school get evacuated,” Johnson said of the neighborhood’s One Fifty Parker Avenue School. “They were evacuating people from a colonoscopy center on gurneys.”

Staff writers Matthias Gafni and Nate Gartrell contributed to this report. Check back for updates.

Contact George Kelly at 408-859-5180.

blog comments powered by Disqus