SAN BRUNO, Calif. – A massive fire burned homes as it roared through a mostly residential neighborhood in the hills south of San Francisco following a loud explosion Thursday evening that shot a fireball more than 1,000 feet into the air and sent residents fleeing for safety, witnesses said.
The fire was burning in the town of San Bruno a few miles from San Francisco International Airport, prompting speculation it was sparked by a plane crash. Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency has no record of a crash. Spokesmen for local airports also said they knew of no missing planes.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co., the utility company that serves the San Francisco Bay area, said one of its gas lines ruptured in the area of the blast and fire.
Utility officials said in an e-mailed statement that the ruptured gas line was theirs, although they cautioned that the cause of the blast has yet to be determined.
The company said it would “take accountability” if it was found to be responsible for the explosion.
California Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jay Allen said the fire had spread to 10 acres late Thursday night, destroyed 53 homes and damaged 120. The fire was 50 percent contained.
The person who answered the phone at Seton Medical Center in nearby Daly City said the hospital was on a triage alert because of people being brought to the hospital with injuries caused by the fire.
Witnesses said a loud explosion was felt before the flames erupted about 6 p.m.
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.
At 6:14 p.m., Stephanie Mullen, Associated Press news editor for photos based in San Francisco, was at Cresmoor High School when she saw the blast.
“First, it was a low deep roar and everybody looked up, and we all knew something big was happening,” she said. “Then there was a huge explosion with a ball of fire that went up behind the high school several thousand feet into the sky.”