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Fire chief: gas line blast caused massive San Bruno fire
September 09, 2010, 06:57 PM Staff and wire reports
The San Bruno fire chief says a gas line explosion likely caused the massive fire burning homes in a residential neighborhood.

San Bruno Fire Chief Dennis Haag tells KPIX-TV that he believes a high-pressure gas line blew just after 6 p.m. Thursday.

Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman J.D. Guidi says the utility company is looking into the possibility of a natural gas explosion, but he has no further details.

Live television footage showed more than a dozen homes destroyed, with flames reaching as high as 60 feet in the air as the fire incinerated everything in its path.

A person who answered the phone at Seton Medical Center in nearby Daly City says the hospital is on a triage alert as the injured are brought in.

As of 8:55 p.m., the fire was estimated to be 10 acres and 20 percent contained, according to state emergency officials.

The fire is not having any direct impact on operations at SFO. All traffic is arriving and departing normally. The FAA has dedicated a controller in the Airport’s Air Traffic Control tower to handle all aircraft involved with aerial firefighting and rescue operations.

The San Francisco Fire Department Airport Division at SFO dispatched three units to the scene as part of a county-wide mutual aid request.

The San Mateo County Coroner's Office confirmed at least one fatality. A spokeswoman for San Francisco General Hospital said two patients, a man and a woman, were admitted in critical condition.

Five victims were also brought to the Mills Health Center in San Mateo with minor burns, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The majority of the burn patients appear to have been taken to the Kaiser Permanente, South San Francisco Medical Center.

City officials said the fire was devastating.

"We know these people. They are friends of ours," said San Bruno Councilman Ken Ibarra.

Ibarra said there are at least five families he knows personally in the area whose houses, he had no doubt, were gone. Their whereabouts, and well-being, was unknown to Ibarra.

Ibarra was in lower San Bruno when he heard what was a loud noise, distinctly different from that of an airplane taking off.

"We looked. It was loud enough that we knew where to look. Within seconds, plumes of smoke," he said.

An emergency office has been set up at City Hall, Ibarra said. In addition, a number of churches have called offering help. Ibarra, a longtime member of Lions Club International, noted a request has been put in for an emergency $10,000 donation to start covering aid costs.

"When it comes to helping people, we’ll be ready,” he said.

Councilwoman Irene O’Connell echoed Ibarra’s concerns. Her son, like Mayor Jim Ruane, was out at the scene offering to help.

A number of years ago, after attending an emergency training conference, O’Connell worked with city staff to ensure paperwork was in place should an emergency of this caliber occur. If enough damage is done, the city can apply for state or federal aid for not only itself but for the residents who frankly, lost everything. Those applications cannot be made until after the extent of the damage is known. However, when that time comes, San Bruno is in a place to request the help quickly, she said.

The American Red Cross has established an emergency shelter for evacuees at the Veterans Memorial Recreation Center, located at 251 City Park Way at Crystal Springs Road in San Bruno, according to spokeswoman Melanie Finke. Food and shelter will be provided.

Finke said members of the Red Cross team have told her that about 100 people were already at the shelter as of 8:15 p.m.

She said she is unsure at this time how many more people will show up. Finke said an evacuation shelter has also been established at the Bayhill Shopping Center by emergency officials and that some evacuees had opted to go there. The Bayhill Shopping Center is located at San Bruno and Cherry avenues.

Finke said the Red Cross is in the process of bringing in cots, blankets, food and water to the Red Cross shelter. She said basic health services would be available, but that people in need of treatment have sought other medical care.

Arrangements are also being made to bring in crisis counselors to provide emotional support.

"It is difficult at this point to know how many people are truly affected,” Finke said.

San Mateo Union High School District Officials were working tonight to secure support services that will be available at Capuchino High School Friday morning, said Superintendent Scott Laurence. In addition, the district is hoping to help people in any way it can. Those who need help from the district are asked to call 588-2201.


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