help_outline Skip to main content

DSA In the News

Fire investigation underway

Published on 9/11/2010

As the San Bruno community wonders how it will put its life back together after Thursday night’s deadly explosion and fire, officials are beginning to demand answers on what caused the neighborhood near Crestmoor Canyon to blow apart.

“We need to know why this happened and how it happened and make sure it never happens again,” said Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, who is acting governor while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is overseas.

Christopher Hart, National Transportation Safety Board vice president, had limited information on the cause at a Friday evening press conference but promised to look at every aspect of the natural gas pipeline itself and the employees in charge of its operation.

The eight-member investigative team will assess those workers for training, alcohol use and what they were doing in the hours before the explosion at 6:02 p.m., Hart said.

The NTSB will not determine probable cause or assign blame while on scene but will issue a report in 14 to 18 months and make recommendations if safety concerns are found.

A ruptured 30-inch steel gas line caused the explosion but some officials like Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, are concerned that Pacific Gas and Electric glossed over reports of potential leaks in the weeks leading up the explosion.

“Our first priority needs to be helping the victims and then we need to take a long hard look at the cause of this fire,” Hill said in a written statement Friday afternoon.

Hill pointed to a May 18, 2010 report by the NTSB which said a CPUC audit of PG&E found violations of regulations and procedures in a Christmas Eve 2008 pipeline accident in Rancho Cordova. The audit found PG&E service representatives didn’t define the term “hazardous leak” and were not trained on using gas detection equipment and grading leaks outdoors.

Hill wants to know if the power company’s personnel have since been trained properly or if similar oversights mean the San Bruno explosion could have been avoided.

“The residents of San Bruno deserve to know if PG&E used the correct procedures in the days and weeks leading up to this disaster,” Hill said.

Several witnesses and residents have reported smelling gas fumes in the weeks leading up to the disaster but PG&E representatives were not present to address the rumors and Fire Chief Dennis Haag has yet to check dispatch records.

Hart’s initial impression of the area — now declared a crime scene to limit public access — was of the “amazing destruction.” Hart said he saw approximately 170 damaged or destroyed homes, although that figure is far larger than that being used by other first responders.

The most damaged areas, according to officials on scene, are the 1600 and 1700 blocks of Claremont Drive, the 900 block of Glenview Drive, the 1700 block of Earl Avenue, the 1100 block of Fairmont Drive and the 2700 block of Concord Way.

As of Friday evening, 38 homes were destroyed and eight sustained major and minor damage.

Four people are confirmed dead but the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office had only identified three victims as of Friday night.

A 44-year-old woman and her 13-year-old daughter were among the announced. Agustin Macedo said his daughter, Jacqueline Greig, and his granddaughter Janessa were killed. Macedo said he was too upset to give any more information, including how he knew his family members’ fate.

Another victim was identified as 20-year-old Jessica Morales.

Authorities are hopeful for no further fatalities and Haag said there are no missing person reports. Rescue teams and dogs have searched 90 percent of the homes and will narrow in on areas Saturday to confirm there are no bodies.

Along with the confirmed dead, 52 people were treated at county hospitals including three at the burn unit of St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco.

Although Haag said the fire is “100 percent contained” there are still hot spots and a lack of power and sewage within the area, keeping even those residents whose property was not destroyed from returning home. A limited number of residents may be able to enter beginning Saturday but that is the best-case scenario, said San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson.

Meanwhile, the city compiled a list of properties destroyed or damaged and began distributing them at assistance centers. That information is based on visual inspections so further evaluations by building inspectors could prove others are structurally unsound.

Teams are also working to identify potential hazardous material and manage debris, said Secretary Matthew Bettenhausen of the California Emergency Management Agency.

“This is the beginning of a long recovery process,” Bettenhausen said.

Part of that recovery includes a town hall meeting 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Robert’s Catholic Church, 1380 Crystal Springs Road, to answer questions and offer support, said Councilman Rico Medina.

Officials also expect damage estimates on Saturday.

Destroyed homes:

Glenview: 970, 971, 981, 991, 1100, 1110, 1115, 1121, 1127

Earl: 1701, 1711, 1721

Claremont: 1621, 1631, 1641, 1642, 1645, 1646, 1650, 1651, 1655, 1660, 1661, 1670, 1680, 1690, 1700, 1701, 1710

Fairmont: 1101, 1106, 1110, 1115, 1121

Concord: 2731, 2735, 2741

Major damage:

Glenview: 960

Claremont: 1636

Minor damage:

Fairmont: 1120, 1127

Glenview: 1127

Claremont: 1720, 1721

Earl: 1731