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DSA In the News

Evacuees flee homes

Published on 9/10/2010

Families fleeing a fire that destroyed several blocks of homes in San Bruno last night descended on the Bayhill Shopping Center to a makeshift evacuation center set up by the county Sheriff’s Office, many not sure where they would spend the night.

Others, however, remained as close as they could to their homes to see if they could be saved.

Many fled with just the clothes on their backs, not certain if they would have a home to return to after a gas main explosion in the Glenview neighborhood engulfed 10 acres.

A massive explosion sent asphalt flying throughout the neighborhood bound by Skyline Boulevard, San Bruno Avenue and Sneath Lane, just west of the Crestmoor Canyon.

Sarah Williams was visiting a friend about a block away from where the fire raged, near Glenview and Claremont drives, just after 6 p.m. last night.

“It felt like a huge earthquake. When we went outside you could see this huge fireball. We got out of there immediately,” she said.

She ended up in the Rollingwood neighborhood, just north of the fire, where hundreds gathered to watch firefighters try to control the blaze.

Jerry Hiller, who lives on Vermont Way, was sitting down to watch football when he heard a big “boom.”

“The house just shook. It rattled. I looked outside and saw a big ball of fire. It was just five doors down,” Hiller said.

Hiller did not head to Bayhill but rather gathered a few blocks from his home to wait and see if it would be saved from the fire.

An entire block of homes went up in flames at the corner of Vermont Way and Claremont Drive just west of Fairmont Drive, destroying automobiles on the street as well.

Firefighters were watering down the roofs of homes all over the neighborhood to try to keep the fire contained and had to help one woman to safety who suffered smoke inhalation.

Heat from the fire was so intense it melted the paint on homes about a block away from where a fire raged.

When Hiller left the scene, he could see holes in roofs and chunks of asphalt strewn across lawns and on the street.

“When I ran out of my house, everyone else started running out too. It is the biggest fire I ever saw. It looks like a war zone with the planes, copters and all the fire trucks,” Hiller said.

Hiller did not want to leave his home but then could feel the heat from the fire.

“Finally, the police came and told us to get out,” Hiller said.

Many had initially thought the fire was caused by a jetliner crash.

Parkside Middle School students John Burright and Michael John Canson were walking down Sneath Lane to the 7-Eleven when they heard an explosion.

“We had just heard a big jet go over and then we heard an explosion. We thought it was a plane,” Burright said.

Marla Shelmadine’s home filled up with smoke just minutes after she heard the explosion.

She headed to the evacuation center at Bayhill where many of her neighbors were gathered.

“We left right away. You should have heard it. It sounded like drums beating,” Shelmadine said about the explosion.

Shelmadine was about four houses down from where a fire erupted.

She was concerned about a neighbor with Alzheimer’s disease who lived alone who was eventually taken to a care facility.

“Everybody is helping everyone affected by this,” she said.

Shelmadine had heard at least 40 homes may have been destroyed by the blaze.

“I don’t know how my house is,” she said. “We got out of there with our dogs and cats. My partner wasn’t even wearing any shoes.”

Clarence Press also gathered at Bayhill and was given a blanket to keep warm just after 8 p.m., two hours after the initial explosion.

“I had no time to think,” Press said. “My neighbor across the street has a huge hole in the roof.”

Press lives on Earl Avenue, just down the street from a San Bruno fire station.

Crews were on scene within two minutes of the explosion, Press said.

Karen Celentano, who lives on Claremont Drive, grabbed her dog and husband before fleeing her home.

“The noise was so horrendous, it was unbelievable,” Celentano said. “I didn’t grab my purse or cell phone. Fortunately, my husband had his wallet. We are going to stay with our dad tonight.”

Evacuees were told to check in at the Bayhill Shopping Center so police could keep track of who might be missing in the fire.

One woman wanted to see a list of names that had already checked in at the evacuation center to find out if her parents were OK, since she hadn’t heard from them well past 8 p.m.

Their names were not on the list, however.