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DSA In the News

Emotional residents demanding answers

Published on 9/14/2010

San Bruno resident Bill Magoolaghan’s gratefulness to PG&E and city officials is waning as he and his family have been kept away from their home since a raging fire destroyed most of the Glenview neighborhood Thursday night.

Magoolaghan, 46, and hundreds more gathered at the San Bruno Senior Center yesterday morning seeking answers from city officials as to when they could resume their normal lives or to just get a glimpse at what was once home.

Julio Locon was not sure of the status of his home yesterday and wanted to gain access to it.

He has been staying in a hotel with his family and got his first good night’s sleep Sunday.

“My house was jumping like crazy. I thought it was an earthquake or bomb or airplane. I want to make sure my home is safe to go back into,” Locon said.

Even if it is safe to occupy, Locon and his family might move out of the neighborhood. Locon, who resides at 2791 Concord Way, suffered second-degree burns on his hands from the heat of the fire.

While Locon was grateful the city held yesterday’s meeting, some victims were becoming increasingly discouraged by not being able to access their homes and others were wary of the politicizing of the event and aftermath.

“I’m feeling this surge of frustration,” Magoolaghan said. “I’m not paying my mortgage so I can live in a hotel.”

Magoolaghan, his expectant wife Betti and three children, have been holed up in a Residence Inn since a gas line burst causing a fire that covered more than 10 acres and raged for hours.

His home was red-tagged, meaning it was either totally destroyed or will no longer be habitable.

“We just want access to our home,” he said.

He and his wife have had to spend time at the Department of Motor Vehicles and Social Security Administration offices replacing documents lost in the blaze.

“A surprise baby shower for my wife was set for Saturday that had to be canceled. My daughter misses her favorite pillow. They don’t have any toys,” said Magoolaghan, who lived at 1611 Claremont Drive.

A meeting for “devastated home owners” was hosted by San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane and City Manager Connie Jackson with U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier in attendance.

The press was kept out of the event to protect the privacy of victims.

Ruane assured residents affected by the blaze that the city would stand behind them.

“These people have lost everything. Rebuilding is not just physical, it is mental too. It will take them quite a while to recover,” Ruane said.

The mayor said victims of the fire would be provided housing “one way or another,” free of charge.

It was the first time that all affected residents had been assembled in one room, the city manager said.

“The city is prepared to take victims by the hand individually to walk them through the process of getting back into their homes or claiming their belongings,” Jackson said.

Up to 10 families whose homes were yellow-tagged were allowed access to their homes yesterday to retrieve their belongings. The yellow tag indicates the home is not destroyed but still not safe to occupy.

In total, 49 homes were red-tagged with 38 of them being completely destroyed. Red tags indicate the home is not safe to enter.

A number of homes not directly affected by the fire are still green tagged, meaning they are safe to occupy but residents of those homes might be kept away due to the massive size of the cleanup effort.

The city will waive any building permit fees or construction-related fees for residents who will rebuild their homes, Jackson said, and will set up a one-stop permit center to review plans and for approvals to rebuild.

Fred Gillen, who resides at 2790 Concord Way, was not impressed by the city’s assurance it would stand behind him.

“Politically, it stinks,” said Gillen, whose home is green-tagged. “We should have been back in our home Sunday.”

Gillen had unkind words for Pacific Gas and Electric, also.

“They tell us to check our smoke detectors for safety,” Gillen said. “What are they checking?”

Gillen wanted to know why streets in his neighborhood were marked with arrows and the phrase “USA” in chalk leading up to the explosion.

He was told all kinds of companies need “underground service access” to perform a variety of job duties at any given time.

The city allows companies such as AT&T and PG&E to gain access below the streets with a permit but does not oversee the work they do, Jackson said.

“Underground activity is fairly routine,” Jackson said.

Speier, D-San Mateo, called San Bruno’s response to the disaster a “text-book” example of how to do it right.

She and state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo also hosted an event late last night at the Church of the Highlands, off Sneath Lane in the Portola Highlands just above where the disaster struck.