Friday, September 10, 2010

Natural Gas Line, Explosion, Fire, and a Really Bad Night Near San Francisco

Update (9:45 a.m. CDT, September 10, 2010)

Blood Donors Needed

"Blood center calls for more donations"
The Daily Journal, San Mateo (September 10, 2010)

"Blood Centers of the Pacific is issuing an emergency appeal for blood donations, particularly of Type O negative, to replenish the supply currently being depleted by those injured in Thursday’s explosion and fire in San Bruno.

"Area hospitals are requiring significant amounts of Type O negative blood — the type that can be given to anyone in an emergency.

"While the blood center will be able to move supplies from other hospitals to the ones treating the injured patients...."

This hour's burn victims have enough blood on hand - but the area supply has gotten low as a result of that quick shuffle.

Daylight: Putting Out Hot Spots, Searching for More Victims

"San Bruno explosion and fire kills 4, destroys 53 homes"
San Jose Mercury News (September 10, 2010)

" small army of firefighters continued this morning to fight hot spots in the San Bruno neighborhood devastated by a massive fire sparked by a gas main explosion. At the same the search for possible victims is underway as the death toll reached four and could go higher.

"This morning the San Bruno fire chief said six people had died, according to ABC7-TV, but later the San Mateo County coroner said there were four confirmed dead.

"Meanwhile, two people were arrested for looting in the fire area, according to KTVU-Channel 2.

"The search for victims intensified at daylight as rescue workers combed through rubble across 10 acres of Crestmoor Canyon...."

KTVU has been updating its online article:

Four Dead; 53 Homes Destroyed In San Bruno Fireball"
KTVU (September 10, 2010)

"As of approximately 10:30 p.m. Cal Fire was reporting that the fire was 50% contained and that 10 acres total had burned. San Bruno city officials said at a news conference later Thursday night that fire crews were working to hold the fire, and the city's priority is the safety of those battling the blaze and those affected by the tragedy...."

"...San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane, who was on hand at the briefing, said that his main concern is making sure the citizens of San Bruno are safe.

" 'I would ask anyone who sees this broadcast tonight to say a special prayer for those people,' Ruane said...."

I posted another excerpt from KTVU coverage earlier today.
One thing seems clear at this point: there's been a really bad fire in a San Francisco suburb, at least one person is dead, over two dozen are injured, and the trouble isn't over yet.

The story's made it into international news:

"Gas blast near San Francisco burns homes, kills one"
Reuters (September 10 2010)

"A natural gas pipeline explosion ripped through a neighborhood in a San Francisco suburb on Thursday, starting fires that burned as many as 25 homes and killing at least one person, local media and officials reported...."

That natural gas pipeline shows up in most news articles: and the odds are that it's involved. What isn't so obvious yet is just why a normally well-behaved piece of technology is incinerating a neighborhood.
"At Least One Dead, Several Others Injured In Massive Bay Area Fire"
2News KTVN Reno (September 10, 2010)

"At least one is dead and several others are injured, some seriously after a massive fire started just south of San Francisco Thursday night.

"The blaze broke out around 6 p.m. in San Bruno, just south of San Francisco and near the San Francisco Airport.

"At first, there were reports of an earthquake, a gas station explosion, even a possible plane crash. In the end, a local fire chief says a natural gas line explosion is to blame...."

I don't think the "possible plane crash" is necessarily out of the running. There's no reasonable doubt, judging from news coverage, that a natural gas pipeline is involved. And that an earthquake isn't involved. A tremor would almost certainly have been picked up by instruments, reported, and incorporated into news coverage by now.

There's no reason to assume that an aircraft ran into the pipeline, rupturing it and setting off the explosion and subsequent fires. On the other hand, there's no reason to assume that's not what happened.

At first the focus seems to have been, quite properly, on evacuating everybody except firefighters - and getting the fires under control. That wouldn't leave much opportunity to look for parts of an aircraft.
Here's the most detailed account I've seen to date:

"Gas-line blast in San Bruno - neighborhood burns"
San Francisco Chronicle (September 10, 2010)

"With a thunderous roar heard for miles, a natural gas line explosion ripped through a San Bruno neighborhood shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday, sending up a geyser of fire, critically burning residents and igniting a blaze that gobbled up more than a dozen houses.

"The wind-whipped blaze jumped from structure to structure in the area near Skyline Boulevard and Sneath Lane, west of Interstate 280, raging unabated for almost an hour as emergency crews rushed in, residents cleared out, and ambulance sirens filled the air.

"The central ball of fire, fed by the gas line, raged past nightfall before abating. By then, about 20 houses and thick stands of trees were engulfed in flames. Power was cut off to the area, and the only light came from emergency vehicles and the smoldering houses...."

Detailed and with some of the more flowery language in coverage of this event. "Geyser of fire ... igniting a blaze that gobbled up ... houses?" Well, that certainly paints a vivid word-picture: although that's awfully close to a mixed metaphor. Never mind.

I sincerely hope that the death toll doesn't go up as the area cools off and people can get in for a detailed search.
More - another detailed report.

"Four Dead; 53 Homes Destroyed In San Bruno Fireball"
KTVU (Posted: 6:21 pm PDT September 9, 2010 | Updated: 11:05 pm PDT September 9, 2010)

"A massive fireball, fueled by a broken natural gas line, erupted in the San Bruno foothills early Thursday evening, destroying at least 53 homes, killing at least one person and sending dozens of people to a local hospitals, six of those in critical condition, authorities said.

"The four-alarm conflagration, soaring several hundred feet into the air in a tornadic column of fire, started at about 6:15 p.m. at Skyline Boulevard and San Bruno Avenue, according to the battalion chief's office.

"As of approximately 10:30 p.m. Cal Fire was reporting that the fire was 50% contained and that 10 acres total had burned. In addition to the 53 homes destroyed by the blaze, 120 homes in the area were damaged.

"The San Mateo County coroner confirmed that at least one person has died in the blaze...."

This detail, from the sixth through tenth paragraphs of the article, is interesting:

"...Local residents said they felt an explosion followed by a fireball that soared hundreds of feet into the air.

" 'We heard what sounded like a plane, then all of a sudden an explosion,' Carmann Robbins told KTVU. 'It shook the window. It kind of startled me. We jumped up and then all you could see was flames. The flames were just spreading all through the houses. I don't think the people had time to get out. It (the fire) was jumping from one house to one house to another.'

"Jane Porcelli, 62, said she lives on a hill above where the fire is centered. She said she thought she heard a plane overhead with a struggling engine.

" 'And then you heard this bang. And everything shook except the floor, so we knew it wasn't an earthquake,' Porcelli said.

"I feel helpless that I can't do anything. I just gotta sit by and watch."..."

"What sounded like a plane" may prove to have nothing to do with the pipeline rupture, explosion, and fires. It's not all that long after the start of this event: and there's going to be a very serious look taken at just what happened.

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