PG&E has confirmed that a twenty-four inch natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, CA ruptured during the evening of September 9, 2010, causing a fireball estimated at 200-300 feet in height that burned for several hours. The fire started at 6:00 pm, just before sunset, and was announced as being contained at 11 pm. It igniting dozens of fires that have destroyed more than 50 homes and killed at least one person. There are injuries reported, but no details are available yet. The explosion produced a crater that is at least 15 feet deep, twenty feet long and thirty feet wide. The rupture and explosion damaged nearby water mains, delaying firefighting efforts for more than half an hour.
There is breaking news video coverage available at KGO TV in San Francisco. KGO has also started a still photo library that currently includes more than 80 dramatic photos of the devastated neighborhoods. Look for the page headline of 1 dead after large explosion, fire in San Bruno.
This post will be updated as others provide additional details.
Update: (9/10/2010 0317) The San Jose Mercury News puts the injury total at more than two dozen with critical injuries. San Bruno explosion and fire destroys dozens of homes; one dead, many injured. This article includes some first hand accounts and the following summary from an experienced, but retired, first responder.
“What makes this fire so devastating and so difficult is essentially it creates the equivalent of an eight-alarm fire in the heart of a residential neighborhood,” retired Contra Costa Fire Battalion Chief Dave George said. “It behaves differently than most other fires because it grows in all directions at the same time. Whatever it wants to do, it does.”
George said the heat of the fire would be upward of 1,200 degrees, which could create radiant heat hot enough to burn a couch inside a brick home through the window.
“This is really a worst-case scenario,” he said. “The closest thing to something like this is when a wildland fire hits a residential neighborhood.”
The San Francisco Chronicle has additional details Gas line explosion burns San Bruno neighborhood. According to Chronicle, the count of homes destroyed is 53 with another 120 homes that are damaged as of 10 pm on September 9th. The fires have prevented a complete assessment, but the county coroner has indicated that the death total is not yet known:
Deputy San Mateo County Coroner April Florent said “there are deaths, but we do not have a number right now.” She said it would take awhile to compile a count because investigators must go from house to house.
Update: (9/11/2010 1000)
- CNN article dated September 10, 2010 titled California pipeline blast raises safety questions provides some information about the overall safety record of the pipeline industry and some specifics about recent PG&E experience.
- Lamorinda Patch has a post titled Blood Donors Needed For San Bruno Explosion Victims
- The Los Angeles Times published an article titled A danger lurking underground that includes some information about why the locations of natural gas pipelines and other utilities are often not well known.
- The San Francisco Chronicle has updated the death toll to 4 people in an article titled ‘It looks like a war zone’. The Chronicle is also advertising a Sunday, September 12, 2010 12 page special section with photos and remembrances from the “San Bruno inferno”.
- LA Now (a local blog from the Los Angeles Times) posted an entry quoting an National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator describing a section of the pipe that had ruptured. The 30 inch diameter pipe was blown a surprising distance from the crater. The inspector also reported that the pipe had been installed in 1956. The same blog also includes a post indicating that California lawmakers are are planning to review pipeline safety and inspection programs.
- San Jose Mercury News confirms that the search for bodies has ended with a total of four found (as of 09/11/2010 12:42:11 AM PDT). The Mercury News story also reports that there were 37 homes completely destroyed with 8 more that were seriously damaged.
- The Daily Mail online has personal stories and a large collection of photos in a September 11, 2010 story titled Mother and teenage daughter among the dead in San Francisco gas blast horror
Update: (September 13, 2010 0550)
- The Washington Post – September 13, 2010 Residents return home after Calif pipeline blowout. There are still 4 people missing and investigators are trying to determine if some of the remains found are human. Sixty people were injured, some critically. The 28 foot long section of 30″ diameter pipe that was blown out of the crater and landed more than 100 feet away has been transported to Washington, DC for evaluation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) the organization responsible for investigating pipeline accidents.
- San Francisco Chronicle – September 13, 2010 San Bruno blast: PG&E ordered to check pipes. A portion of the same pipeline that exploded had been planned for replacement. According to a document about the project description filed in a recent PG&E rate case “the risk stemming from a possible failure of the pipe is “unacceptably high.”” According to the SF Chronicle article, four of the victims are being treated for critical burns.
- New York Times – September 13, 2010 After Blast, Uneasiness for Residents Going Home.
Maria Monroy, 41, cannot shake the fear she felt at seeing a ball of flame engulfing her neighborhood and people running barefoot and screaming in the street. “We’re blessed our house is O.K.,” said Ms. Monroy, who has been staying at a nearby hotel with her husband and three daughters. “But we lived through that explosion. I’m traumatized. I have not slept in three days. Just because my h
ouse is fine does not mean I’m O.K.”
Update: (September 28, 2010) Energy Central Self-inflicted wounds make PG&E’s effort to rebuild trust a tall order. The current death toll is up to seven people.
“PG&E does some wonderful things with renewable energy and climate change. They have all sorts of innovative solar and energy efficiency programs,” said Chris Raphael, editor of California Energy Markets, a weekly publication that tracks the electricity industry.”But at the same time they have this history of creating a rift sometimes between them and their customers.”