tagged w/ Bob Pelligrini
Blaze engulfs dozens of homes in California neighborhood
By the CNN Wire Staff
September 10, 2010 4:35 a.m. EDT
[This is the original submission. Please see updates further down.]
San Bruno, California (CNN) -- Firefighters were still battling a deadly gas-fueled blaze Friday that engulfed dozens of homes and sent fireballs shooting into the air in this neighborhood near the San Francisco airport, emergency management officials said.
At least one person died in the fire, Kelly Huston of California Emergency Management said.
Local hospitals reported Thursday night that at least 28 people were being treated for injuries from the fire, some with critical burn injuries. The number of dead and injured was "likely to climb," Huston said.
At least 53 homes were severely damaged and up to 120 homes have some damage from the fast-moving fire, San Bruno Fire Chief Dennis Haag told reporters.
The fire was about 50 percent contained four hours after it began, he said. But the persistent flames had kept crews from searching the area for victims.
Firefighters had not yet been able to access the high-pressure gas line that appeared to be the source of an explosion that proceeded the blaze, he said.
City officials said they were trying to account for residents in the area. Haag said about 100 had evacuated to shelters.
"A terrible, terrible tragedy has fallen on our city this afternoon," San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane said.
People as far as a half-mile away said they felt the boom and heat of the blast, KGO reported.
iReport: Ground level view of fire
"I was standing next to a police officer who'd been in Baghdad and he said he had never seen anything quite so bad as this," John Hampton, a freelance photographer who witnessed the fire, told CNN affiliate KGO. "It looks as if this area was fire-bombed."
San Bruno resident Tim Gutierrez, who lives in a neighborhood near where the blast occurred, told CNN affiliate KRON that people living in the area have smelled natural gas for the past three weeks.
"Every day after work, I would smell the heavy smell coming from the gutter and sewer," he said.
When asked about that account Thursday night, Haag told reporters it was "the first time the fire department's ever had any notice of it."
Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman Jeff Smith said it was too early to tell what caused the blast, and declined to comment on any posibility of gas smells proceeding the blast.
"At this time we don't want to speculate on comments such as that. However, if it's determined that PG&E was responsible, we will take accountability," he said.
California Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado declared a state of emergency in San Mateo County.
Windy weather and water supply problems have complicated efforts to combat the flames.
iReport: Lone fireman fights flames
Water pressure in the area was low because the fire compromised a water main, California State Sen. Leland Yee told CNN affiliate KRON, so firefighters had to truck in water.
"It's going to be a long, long fight on this one. Mainly it's a tough terrain up there," he said.
Sergio Campos, 21, said he was on his way to class at Skyline College when he saw the fire and pulled over. Even from a distance, the blaze "sounded like a big, ongoing roar," he said.
"A lot of us were confused because we didn't know if it was a natural explosion or an airplane crash," he told CNN's iReport.
A "major gas line explosion" occurred at 6:15 p.m. (9:15 p.m. ET) and "immediately erupted into fire," San Bruno city spokeswoman Dena Gunning said.
Authorities are worried about winds that could spread the fire and embers that are falling on adjacent houses, Huston said. Helicopters were dropping retardant on homes to try to stop the fire's spread.
iReport: Another view of the fire
Two evacuation centers have been set up and at least 100 people are being cared for at one of the locations, Melanie Finke of the San Francisco Red Cross said.
Church of Highlands Staff Pastor Leigh Bishop told CNN he witnessed a "devastating explosion" that caused the fast-moving fire.
Bishop said two people from his church had lost their homes and at least one person had burn injuries.
California's state fire department was sending 25 fire engines to the area to help battle the blaze at the request of the local fire department, spokesman Daniel Berlant said.
The fire is in a populated area about two miles west of San Francisco International Airport, Huston said.
All flights and operations there were normal Thursday evening, airport spokesman Michael Brown said.
At least 5,000 customers were without electricity, KGO reported.
CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet, Dan Simon, Ninette Sosa, Shawn Nottingham, Anderson Cooper, Karan Olson, Sonya Hamasaki, Deanna Proeller, Greg Morrison, Scott Thompson and Amanda Watts contributed to this report.Blaze engulfs dozens of homes in California neighborhood
By the CNN Wire Staff... more