A catastrophic fire fueled by a broken 16- to 24-inch PG&E gas line
ripped through a San Bruno neighborhood last night, destroying 53 homes
and damaging 120 with a wide swath of towering flames, critically
burning residents and causing massive evacuations.
San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said there were two
fatalities confirmed and at least four people were rushed to local burn
centers in critical condition. A tremendous effort went into containing
the blaze that sent flames as high as 60 feet into the air as they
jumped from house to house incinerating everything in its path.
Firefighters from across the county and federal and state emergency
officials descended on the scene to stop the horrific inferno and save
what was still standing and ensure the safety of fearful residents. At
one point, entire blocks of homes were engulfed in flames and the
firefighting effort was hindered by a lack of water since the gas line
blew out out the water line.
City officials were suddenly put into triage mode and said the fire and its destruction 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, were 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.
The booming explosion happened at 6:12 p.m. and the immediate,
intense and immense fire that accompanied it caused emergency
dispatchers to initially report that a large plane had crashed since
the Glenview neighborhood south of Sneath Lane and east of Skyline
Boulevard is in the flight path of San Francisco International Airport.
Late last night, the 10-acre fire was estimated to be 50 percent
contained and Pacific Gas and Electric acknowledged the ruptured gas
transmission line was theirs.
“Though a cause has yet to be determined, we know that a
PG&E gas transmission line was ruptured,” according to a prepared
statement. “If it is ultimately determined that we were responsible for
the cause of the incident, we will take accountability.”
The California Public Utilities Commission is investigating the
incident and Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado declared a state of emergency last
night. As acting governor, Maldonado will visit San Bruno today,
according to Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo. Both Hill and state
Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, offered support for the
victims and assurances state resources will be available to the city.
“I have been assured that all available state emergency
resources are deployed in San Bruno, including [the California
Emergency Management Agency] and Cal Fire,” Yee said. “... My office
will ensure that the affected families receive the state and local
assistance they need to recoup and recover from this tragedy. In the
days and weeks ahead, a thorough investigation will be conducted, but
tonight our attention is on stopping any further devastation and
helping this neighborhood and community.”
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, as was Mayor Jim Ruane, went to the scene offering 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 magnitude occur. If enough damage is
done, the city can apply for state or federal aid for not only itself
but for the residents who 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
The American Red Cross established an emergency shelter at the
Veterans Memorial Recreation Center, located at 251 City Park Way at
Crystal Springs Road, according to spokeswoman Melanie Finke. About 100
people were already at the shelter as of 8:15 p.m., she said. Officials
from the Peninsula Humane Society were also on hand to assist pet
An evacuation shelter was established at the Bayhill Shopping
Center at San Bruno and Cherry avenues and some evacuees opted to go
Cots, blankets, food, water and basic health services were
available. 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 last
night to secure support services that will be available at Capuchino
High School as it opens 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. Elementary schools in the city will be closed today. City
officials are also working on establishing an emergency hotline.