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Gas Explosion Rocks San Francisco Suburb

Aired September 10, 2010 - 05:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And good Friday morning to you.

It's 5:00 Eastern.

I'm John Roberts in New York.


We're coming to you a little bit early this morning because we have breaking news we're following at this hour out of San Bruno, California. The pictures are incredible -- a massive fire burning right now after a gas line explosion. It happened around 6:15 pm Pacific time last night. Flames shooting hundreds of feet in the air -- hot enough to actually crack the windshield of a fire engine that was out there trying to tamp down the flames. Dozens of homes across several blocks destroyed in less than an hour.

ROBERTS: Yes, yes, I mean this -- this is this huge explosion and a huge fire. It looks like a Pacific Gas & Electric line was running right into the street in that neighborhood there, just a couple of miles west of the San Francisco airport. One person is dead. More than two dozen others have been injured. Right now, firefighters are trying to gain access to cut-off valves for that gas line to prevent the fire from spreading to other homes in the area.

San Bruno Fire Captain, Charlie Barringer, says the blast took out the entire water system, forcing crews to pump water from more than two miles away. So there was just enough to try to get at those flames in the early hours. And it's going to be hours yet before firefighters can even attempt a search and rescue because the danger in the area is still too high.

CHETRY: And right now, that is leading to the possibility that, as we said, one person confirmed killed, but that number could go much higher.

Dan Simon is on the scene right now.

All right, tell us the -- the progress being made on trying to get these gas lines cut off, but also the possibility that they could find more victims once they're able to get closer.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well -- well, look, you know, this happened just after 6:00, when people are coming home from work. So, you know, I spoke to one firefighter and he thinks that almost certainly they're going to find more victims inside these homes. I mean it -- it's just, the fact that it happened, you know, in the early evening hours.

Let me tell you where I am here. And we're here at the command center. The fire about a half mile away from where I am. But I had a chance earlier tonight to actually see it with my own eyes. We were in the thick of it. And for a while, it really looked like this was a losing battle for firefighters, because when you think about it, this fire had a virtually unlimited supply of natural gas. We know that a natural gas line was ruptured. We don't know how.

But let's go ahead and look now at what it looked like just a few hours ago.


SIMON: There were early...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's been reports that the gas is shut off.


SIMON: Well, apparently we do not have that -- that tape. But the operating theory is -- is -- is that gas line was ruptured in -- in some fashion. We don't -- we don't know how. Perhaps that there was a back hoe or somebody digging or doing some construction work in that area.

One interesting thing to note is that a neighbor told a local affiliate that he actually smelled natural gas in that neighborhood for as much as three weeks, if you can believe that. He said that the utility company came out and investigated the -- the odor of gas, but -- but really nothing happened. And for three straight weeks, he smelled gas.

We talked to PG&E about that, the utility. They said it's really too early to know or -- or to comment about that. That was the spokesman we were talking to. Obviously, everybody is going to be -- be investigating it, as soon as we -- we get daylight here.

But still, this fire is still roaring. We've got 50 percent containment, but still, a lot of flames there. And, of course, so many people evacuated. We're told hundreds of people evacuated -- John and Kiran.

ROBERTS: Dan, in some of the -- some of the photos that we have seen -- and we've got an aerial picture in one of our monitors right now. And I don't think we can get that on the air. But you see a -- a substantial crater that this explosion caused. You know, all across the -- the Northeast, where -- where we live and there in San Fran -- there in the San Francisco area, all throughout California, these gas lines run fairly close to neighborhoods. Sometimes there's a buffer zone that the line goes through.

Do you know how close to the actual homes this line was?

SIMON: Well, no doubt about it, it was very close, because when that explosion occurred, instantly, you had several homes go up. And one thing that was just -- just amazing -- this gives you an idea in terms of the magnitude of the explosion, we were several blocks away from what we thought was ground zero. And -- and just on the street, you could see little -- little chunks of concrete. There were -- there were chunks sitting on -- on windshields of cars.

And when you talk about the heat, I spoke to one neighbor who lived about a half a mile away or so, she could feel the heat inside her house. So, I mean she -- she immediately got out. But it was just unbelievable, you know, when you talk to all these people and you looked at some of the cars in the neighborhood, you saw, you know, melted taillights, things of that nature. And so, you know, we are talking about an unbelievable explosion. And, of course, everybody wants to know the cause.

CHETRY: And, Dan, at a time when you were about to go to, I think, a little bit of sound there, we heard somebody say possibly a report of the gas lines being cut off.

Do you know the status of that right now?

Have they been able to actually stop the -- the gas from coming out of these lines?

SIMON: You know, that's my understanding. We actually saw the utility crews working on that earlier tonight. I believe that they got that situation under control. But -- but not entirely sure. I know they were working on it. We know that the power is out. Obviously, that was a main priority, trying to get the power out, because you mix the two, and, obviously, you're looking at another, you know, serious situation.

But, again, for all these residents who live here, who knows when they're going to be -- when they're going to be back, because, you know, taking out the -- the power and the gas lines, obviously, you can't -- you can't go back into your house without either.

So, you know, we're looking at probably a significant amount of time, you know, for neighbors being out of their homes.

ROBERTS: Yes, power, gas and water.

All right, that's Dan Simon for us in San Bruno this morning.

And, Dan, we'll let you work your sources to find out if, indeed, they have actually shut off the main valve to that gas line, which should extinguish the main fire pretty quickly, though we have all these ancillary fires going on at the same time.

As Dan said, power has been cut off to the area, while officials trying to figure out what caused this whole thing to happen in the first place. CHETRY: And Dan was talking about the fact that some neighbors are reporting, when they were asked about it, that they smelled gas for weeks, they claim, leading up to last night's explosion. We're going to hear from one of the neighbors right now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It started around three weeks ago in my neighborhood. PG&E had came out. I was working in my garage. They had told me to shut the door, shut the garage and go inside, that there was real heavy strong gases.

After being in the neighborhood for a little bit, they packed up and left. But the real heavy smell was right down the street, at the next stop sign. Every day after work, I would smell the heavy smell coming from the gutter and sewer right there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And from what you know, what did PG&E do about this?

How long was the smell going on?

What did they tell you to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They told us nothing. I mean I don't know how anybody can not repair a smell like that and -- and not find that smell, especially you go into neighborhoods and there's other -- other neighborhoods that have smelt the same smell, really strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And for how long have you smelled this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For a good three weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what did they tell you to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When -- when -- when they had came out, they had said just shut the door and go inside the house and that was it. You can see as -- as what had happened. That's -- it's just ridiculous.


CHETRY: And you can hear in his voice the frustration, you know, dealing with this and then seeing what happened, this tragedy.

Pacific Gas & Electric, also known as PG&E -- it looks like you'll hear that a lot this morning -- released a statement overnight, reading, in part, "Though a cause has yet to be determined, we know that a PG&E gas transmission line was ruptured. If it is ultimately determined that we were responsible for the cause of the incident, we will take accountability," unquote.

ROBERTS: Yes, you know, so many of us live with these gas lines very close to our -- our neighborhoods, if not in our backyards. And you would like to think that if you smell something that's unusual and you contact the utility, they'd do something about it. Well, student Sergion Campos was driving in his car, heading for class last night, when he says he felt the ground shake, heard a loud roar, thought that a plane might have crashed nearby.

Sergion is on the telephone with us.

Sergion, just describe what -- you know, the senses, the sounds, what you saw when you heard this thing happen.


Good morning.

Well, as I was driving up, you know, like I said, I -- I heard the loud roar. And I pulled over as soon as I saw the -- the flames and just literally three blocks away from the fire, it's like I was actually pushed back by the intense heat just three blocks over.

CHETRY: Yes, and I just want to ask you, you said the plane. I think that there were -- there was some confusion at the beginning, right, the sound was so loud, the boom...


CHETRY: -- and it was shaking the ground, that people initially thought it might have been a plane crash?

CAMPOS: Yes. And the ongoing roar and stuff. And -- and we live down the street from the airport, too, so we immediately thought it was an airplane. And the flames were just huge.

ROBERTS: Yes, you know, Sergion. We actually have some video up that -- that you gave us of the iReport. And thank you so much for that. You can see people running toward the flames. You have a sister -- or your sister has a friend who lives in the area. And you can obviously see the concern on many people's faces as they look toward their neighborhood, wondering what's going on. We know that there are a lot of people who had either children or elderly parents at -- at home. They were worried about them.

What -- what was your sense of what was going on in the neighborhood as you were taking these pictures?

CAMPOS: I mean we were all very confused. We didn't know whether to run toward the flames or to -- to try to help anybody near the flames or run away from the explosions. We really didn't know what was going on. As for my sister's friends, we found out that they're OK. They lost their home, but thankfully they're OK.

CHETRY: They -- oh, they lost their home. Due -- due to the fire?

CAMPOS: Yes. Yes. Yes.

CHETRY: Amazing.

CAMPOS: Out of their -- their homes was one of the affected houses.


CHETRY: How -- do you know how they were able to get out?

Because we're hearing from some of the emergency crews and firefighters here that they expect, perhaps, more injuries, and, unfortunately, more loss of life because of the -- the time that this happened, when so many people were home.

CAMPOS: Right. Yes, I -- I don't know how they were able to get out or if they were even home at the time. But they -- they got out alive.

ROBERTS: You know, Sergion, when you look at the -- the extent, the size of the explosion, the crater that it left behind, all of those homes in the immediate vicinity that went up in flames. And we heard from our Dan Simon about taillights being melted off of cars that were blocks away.

Describe for us the itsy of the heat that you felt there in that area.

CAMPOS: Oh, I mean like I said, three blocks away from there, I -- I felt the heat. I mean they immediately evacuated us all from the -- from that area. I saw like cars with broken windshields and -- and people going around crazy and running around confused. It -- it was -- it was a really scary scene.

ROBERTS: And Dan was describing blocks away, pieces of concrete that -- that seemed to be from the -- the initial explosion and the crater that it created.

Did you see any of that?

CAMPOS: I did not. But I did see the cars with broken windshields.


CHETRY: And in terms of injuries, I mean do you know anything more about the nature of the injuries of people that were taken -- as we understand it, some 53 people were injured, perhaps, as many as 50 and perhaps even more and that they're at local hospitals.

CAMPOS: Right. I don't know a lot of information about that, but I mean what I saw was there was an immediate action. There -- like there's cops on the scene right away, a lot of ambulances and firefighters.

CHETRY: And was there any attempt to make sure that people stayed away?

Were you seeing any active rescues taking place?

CAMPOS: Oh, yes. Of course. I mean we got evacuated away from that area and -- as soon as possible, like maybe five minutes after it happened.

ROBERTS: Sergion, I understand that you were able to go back in the last couple of hours, is that correct?

CAMPOS: I was, yes. I went back -- it was two hours ago, because I actually had left my car there three blocks away from the fire. I tried to go back. But, unfortunately, I couldn't get my car back.

ROBERTS: Right. But what was -- what was the scene like in the neighborhood when you went back?

CAMPOS: Oh, it was dead. It was completely dark. The power was out. And it was smoky and really, really dark.

ROBERTS: What -- what about the fire?

Was it still burning or was it out?

CAMPOS: I couldn't -- I couldn't see the fire from where I was at. I was actually at the bottom of the hill from where it happened.

CHETRY: All right, well, listen, the -- the video that you -- that you shot really tells the story. People, as you said, confusion -- should I run to the blaze to try to see if there is anybody I can help or should I get out of there?

I mean you see some running toward it, some cars leaving. It's just chilling to see this scene unfold.

But, Sergion, thank you for sharing your video with us and with our viewers this morning.

CAMPOS: Thank you very much.

CHETRY: I hope everything that you're close with is OK after this. I know it's going to be a long recovery.

ROBERTS: We really appreciate it, Sergion.


We'll get back to you in just a little while, as well.


ROBERTS: And as Sergion was saying, with San Francisco airport being just a couple of miles away there and the runways configured that they could actually fly over San Bruno, you -- the initial thought was that a plane had come down. And, of course, the initial reaction would be, for many people on the ground, to run toward the flames to see, you know, if there were some survivors or what had -- what had happened there and then figure out that it's a gas explosion, then you want to run away from it, as well.

CHETRY: Exactly. ROBERTS: The pictures that you saw there are iReport from San Bruno brought to use by Sergion.

And thanks again, Sergion, for doing that.

If you live in the area and you've got some pictures, whether they're stills or you have some video, as Sergion did, we'd love to see it. Log onto Send us your photos and videos. It's got all the instructions there for how to upload it to us.

CHETRY: Meantime, we have calls in. We're working this story from all angles. We're -- we're trying to get somebody from PG&E to give us more concrete information about, you know, the situation that's still unfolding. And, of course, we're going to be speaking with rescuers, firefighters, as well, about the rescues and if there, indeed, will perhaps be more loss of life and more injuries.

So we're going to be back in just about 15 minutes. A special edition of AMERICAN MORNING because of this breaking news.

Meanwhile, you've been watching the live coverage now of the gas explosion and fire in San Bruno, California.

We'll be back at 5:30 Eastern and then again at 6:00 for the latest on AMERICAN MORNING.

And now we're going to head back to our regularly scheduled programming.


(REPEAT OF "A.C. 360")

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CHETRY: Well, coming to you a little early this morning on this AMERICAN MORNING because of breaking news.

Glad you're with us.

It's 5:30 Eastern time.

I'm Kiran Chetry.

ROBERTS: Good morning to you.

I'm John Roberts.

It's so good to you see you this Friday morning.

We're following the breaking news right now. It's happening in the suburbs of San Francisco and there it is. You're looking at the picture and you're saying, OK, this is definitely breaking news.

What happened here? A devastating natural gas explosion and fire has destroyed much of an entire neighborhood. A state of emergency has been declared in San Bruno, California. Just to give you an idea of where that is, it's about two miles west of the San Francisco airport, which itself is about 15 miles south of the city of San Francisco.

CHETRY: And there you see it on the map.

They're still trying to assess the human toll. Right now, they know one person is dead. Dozens of people were taken to area hospitals to be treated. Unfortunately, some of the local fire officials say that number could climb as they do a home to home search. But what they are trying to do right now is to prevent this fire from spreading anywhere else in the area.

Crews say it will be hours before they can even attempt a search and rescue because it's simply still too dangerous.

Dan Simon is live in San Bruno this morning.

And so we're seeing those pictures of the flames, reports that at some point, they were shooting 1,000 feet into the air.

Is the fire out this morning?

SIMON: By no means is this fire under control. Last we heard, it was 50 percent contained. But, you know, there are still flames -- active flames there and numerous firefighters there on the scene.

We're at the -- the command center, but -- where everything is happening, only about a half mile away. And we were actually in the thick of things. We saw what was going on. We saw the fire crews trying to work on these flames.

Let's go ahead and show that now.


SIMON: There were earlier reports that a plane may have crashed into the hillside. Those reports were not true. But you can understand when you get here why some may have been under that impression.

When fire crews got here, this neighborhood where we are was just totally engulfed in flames. You can see right now, firefighters -- all they can really do is take a defensive stance and try to put out some of these flames and try to prevent some of the other homes from catching on fire.

Here's another vantage point of some homes that -- that caught fire. You can see behind us just four or five homes totally leveled. The fire crews not doing anything over there.

A few minutes ago, we heard a very loud explosion. We didn't know what it was it turned out to be this -- this white station wagon, some kind of car explosion. So that's another thing that crews out here have to deal with.

We are right next to what we think was ground zero and you can see behind me, everything is completely leveled. To give you an idea of just how hot this fire was, I want to show you this. Look at the back of this white Volkswagen, the heat just melting this taillight. But if you walk to the front, you can see that the explosion caused the concrete to travel a great distance. It's just lying here on the windshield of this car, a little chunk of it.

One of the big problems firefighters are dealing with right now is the wind. You can see it on this crime scene tape just kind of blowing around. And you can see it with this smoke that's helping to spread the flames.


SIMON: Yes, that was the real problem earlier. It's a -- it's a bit calmer now, so the fire crews, hopefully, getting an upper hand on this blaze. But, again, because you're dealing with so much fire over there and you had all that gas, all the mixture of gas, obviously, they're dealing with -- with, really, an unbelievable situation. You -- obviously, you know, it sounds a bit like a cliche, but -- but when you show up there, it really did look like a movie set.

We heard from one neighbor who actually said he -- he smelled -- detected an odor of gas for about three weeks. He said that the utility company actually came and investigated, but apparently nothing happened.

We checked with PG&E, the utility. We talked to a spokesperson who said it's too early for him to comment about that. But they said if -- if it's determined that PG&E is responsible for what happened that -- that they will take accountability for this.

So, again, right now, we know that there was some kind of a natural gas line rupture. We just don't know what actually caused that rupture.

But in terms of whether or not gas is still flowing out of those lines, we know that -- that it's been shut off. That's the good news -- no more gas being -- being distributed in that area. So right now, focuses can just really concentrate on -- on getting those flames under control -- John and Kiran.

ROBERTS: All right, so, Dan, you -- you said, just at the top here, that by no means the fire was under control. But the -- the fire that's coming out of the pipeline, do we know what the state of that is now that they're beginning to shut off the flow of gas?

SIMON: We know that -- that since the flow of gas is -- there's no more flow of gas, so -- so they're able to get that situation under control. Right now, what they're really dealing with are -- are just house fires. And there are so many of them. We -- we were told that -- that 53 homes destroyed, 120 more damaged. And -- and because you had the factor of the wind, it was spreading. You had -- you had embers in the sky. You know, it's not often when you come to -- to a neighborhood like this and you -- and you start throwing out terms like containment and those kinds of things. We -- we normally associate that kind of language with -- with -- with real wildfires. So it's unbelievable that -- that here, in a real suburban setting, just, you know, south of San Francisco, that -- that you're seeing this. And people who -- who experienced this, people who -- who -- who heard this explosion and felt this explosion thought that they were dealing with an earthquake, thought they were dealing with a significant earthquake. They never, in their wildest dreams, thought this was -- this was a fire.

CHETRY: Yes, you bring us a good point, actually, when you talk about that. I mean, obviously, this is an area that is prone to earthquakes or where it wouldn't be unusual.

Do they do anything different in terms of trying to secure and protect these gas lines that run underground and -- and so close to neighborhoods, you know, in the event that there is an earthquake?

I mean what we're seeing right now, if this is, indeed, a rup -- was a rupture, which they -- they believe it is, what's to prevent this from happening more often?

SIMON: Well, you know, that's a good question. We know that -- that in construction here in the Bay Area, they do the best they can to retrofit the homes and retrofit as much as they can, and that includes utilities, to put them in areas that they think might be better protected from earthquakes.

Now, we don't know what happened in this situation. We don't know if there was a back hoe and somebody was digging for a water line or digging -- doing some kind of construction. We just don't -- don't know. So whether or not, you know, these gas lines, you know, could possibly erupt if you had an earthquake, that kind of situation, we just don't know.

ROBERTS: You know, obviously, Dan, this was some sort of main feeder line that PG&E had in the area.

Do we know what -- what size that line was?

SIMON: We -- we really don't. But, you know, no doubt about it, this -- this was significant. The fact that you had -- I mean, again, you saw that video where I was, at ground zero. You couldn't really count the number of homes, but it was probably 10 or 11 homes just right there. That was right where the explosion was.

CHETRY: Right.

SIMON: So -- so you're talking about just an unbelievable explosion, the fact that you had all those homes right there in that close proximity go up so quickly.

CHETRY: Yes. And we're looking right now at the amateur video. This was shot seconds after it happened by a -- a young man, Sergion Campos, who lives in the area. When we spoke to home in the last half hour, he said that he went back to the scene just a few moments ago because he had actually left his car there and walked home after this. And he said it was just pitch dark, the fires were out there.

You're talking about only a 50 percent containment this morning.

So can you give our viewers some idea of just the scope of this, I mean how far does this extend out?

SIMON: We're -- we're talking about -- about several blocks. So we're talking probably about a two mile or so radius. And in terms of -- of evacuees, we know that hundreds of people have been evacuated. We know that people are out of their -- out of their homes and were told to go to shelters and so forth. And -- and you mentioned this earlier, at this point, we know that -- that there's one confirmed fatality. But until crews can -- can really go inside, once they have things under control and go inside and -- and have a look for themselves, they're not going to really know how many people died in this blaze.

We spoke to one firefighter who -- who just, you know, he could only speculate. He said look, this happened just after 6:00. You have a lot of people coming home from work. You know, you had a foot -- a couple of football games on and people -- people at home.

So no question in his mind, you're going to have more people dead, unfortunately.

ROBERTS: Yes, and it's going to be some time, according to fire officials, before they can get into the homes of the immediate area of the gas explosion.

Dan Simon on the scene for us this morning in San Bruno.

Dan, thanks so much.

We'll get back to you in just a -- a little while.

CHETRY: Dan had mentioned a neighbor who had been complaining about the smell of gas, a very strong odor of natural gas. I guess they put something in it to make it smell so they can...

ROBERTS: Yes. Just raw methane doesn't really have a smell to it, so they add a -- I guess you could call it a colorant, so that if it -- if it does leak, you can smell it.

CHETRY: And he was saying that for three weeks, he did, indeed, smell it. In fact, he said crews came and checked things out. We -- we have a little bit of that sound from the neighbor.

Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It started around three weeks ago in my neighborhood. PG&E had came out. I was working in my garage. They had told me to shut the door, shut the garage and go inside, that there was real heavy strong gases.

After being in the neighborhood for a little bit, they packed up and left. But the real heavy smell was right down the street, at the next stop sign. Every day after work, I would smell the heavy smell coming from the gutter and sewer right there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And from what you know, what did PG&E do about this?

How long was the smell going on?

What did they tell you to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They told us nothing. I mean I don't know how anybody can not repair a smell like that and -- and not find that smell, especially you go into neighborhoods and there's other -- other neighborhoods that have smelt the same smell, really strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And for how long have you smelled this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For a good three weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what did they tell you to do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When -- when -- when they had came out, they had said just shut the door and go inside the house and that was it. And you can see as -- as what had happened, that's just -- it's just ridiculous.


ROBERTS: Well, despite the fact that it would seem obvious that a gas main is the -- the source of this enormous fire, we've heard very little from PG&E, Pacific Gas & Electric. They released a statement overnight. Part of the statement says -- and we'll put it up on the screen for you here -- quote, "Though a cause has yet to be determined, we know that a PG&E gas transmission line was ruptured. If it is ultimately determined that we were responsible for the cause of the incident, we will take accountability."

But as Dan Simon was saying, nobody quite knows what happened with it, whether there was a back hoe digging in the area or -- or if there was a leak, like that one fellow was saying, he could smell gas in the area that suddenly ignited. Yet to be determined at this point.

CHETRY: You know, they still have a lot of investigating to do. They can't even get to the scene yet.

Somebody who did arrive at the scene just moments after the disaster is Brian Carmody. And he's a freelance photographer who's been working the streets of the area for 16 years.

And Brian is with us this morning from San Bruno.

Good morning and thanks for staying up with us. I know we were talking about 2:41 your time in the morning.

You say you've never heard anything like the sound that you heard from the ground last night. Just give us a sense of what it was like to be there.

BRIAN CARMODY, FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER: When we pulled up, the -- the heat was absolutely amazing. It was to the point where I actually had to put on some -- what I have is -- is basically wild land firefighting gear, which is a helmet and goggles, just to shoot what I shot.

The sound coming out of the ground was unbelievable. It was just a very, very continually loud roar of the gas and the flames. There was a house that right in front of me that was completely on fire. There were several cars burning. The fire was spreading from home to home. In my view, just east of where we were, there were five to six other homes that I could see that were completely gone at that time.

ROBERTS: How -- how close, Brian, were you able to get to the -- the area where the explosion actually took place?

And -- and, you know, it happening in -- just after 6:00, about 6:15 Pacific, a lot of people would be coming home from work at that time.

Did you get a sense of how crowded the neighborhood was?

CARMODY: Well, this was a -- this was the type of incident where the -- the authorities did not have to ask people to leave. These people literally ran for their lives from this thing.

I was about a block -- one city back away from where the gas and flames were coming out of the ground. Most of my video was shot at the corner of Claremont and Vermont in San Bruno.

And it did not appear that there were many people home by the time I got there. That was also the first thing I saw the authorities doing. There was really nothing they could do to fight the fire at that point, with the gas still burning out of the ground. The fire -- the radiant heat from -- from the actual gas and the fireball was making it so they couldn't even attack the homes that were on fire. The -- like I said, when I got there, the author -- most of the authorities were actually going door to door trying to make sure that the people were out. I actually saw the firefighters go into one home and rescue a dog, which was kind of a neat -- a nice little, you know, vision of hope in the middle of this whole deal. And that -- that was basically all they could do in the beginning, is -- is make sure that people were out.

CHETRY: And you talk about being able to see the frustration on their face, because to make matters worse, apparently this explosion blew up the water lines. So even if they could have done anything, they had no water at the time.

CARMODY: I had several firefighters come to me and just make statements as they were passing by that they were just completely frustrated. They were frustrated because they didn't have any water. They were frustrated because they just couldn't do anything about this fire. You know, these are guys who go in there for a living every day and put these things out. And to be there with all their gear and everything and not have a way to -- to put this fire out was -- was terrible.

I can confirm for you that the -- that the firefighters nearest to this blaze did not have any water in the beginning. They had to bring water in, you know, lay lines in from several blocks away to actually get a supply line in to get this fire.

ROBERTS: You know, one of the -- one of the pictures that we have, Brian, is an -- is an aerial shot from a helicopter that shows the crater very well. And you can see the -- the gas spewing out of the -- the ruptured pipeline and then igniting. There's the picture right now from KTVU, our -- our affiliate.

And you get a sense that this was literally running through the backyards of these homes.

Now, typically, a main line like that would -- with have some sort of buffer zone. There in California, how close do these main lines come to the actual residences?

CARMODY: I can't really talk about that. I -- I don't know normally. But I can confirm for you that this was right behind several houses. I actually got into the backyard. There is some video that I shot from the backyard of one of these homes. And it's a kind of a draw that goes down the hill. And this thing is right in that little draw and that -- you know, behind the homes. And I actually never saw that crater, because the fire was too big when I was there. But I -- I have heard about that.

CHETRY: Brian, you said that at one point, they commandeered your car, right, to take a burn victim away?

At this...


CHETRY: Go ahead. Tell us more about that and about what you saw in terms of the human toll.

I mean were people being rescued?

What -- what was going on at that time?

CARMODY: Again, there weren't many people around. I literally, you know, I got the sense that everybody just ran from the scene and that they weren't -- you know, they weren't rescuing many people. What happened with the incident you're talking about is I saw the firemen carrying somebody. And one of them said we need your car, we need your car. And I just immediately gave my keys over to the guys. I didn't -- I didn't argue, didn't anything. I just gave it to them, let them go and do what they needed to do. CHETRY: Do you -- as we look at this explosion and -- and John's referencing this crater, I mean those, at one point, those were homes. The death toll right now is one person, dozens of others injured. The extent of their injuries, we don't know.

What is your best assessment, from being right there, one city block away, as to whether or not we're going to hear that more people, indeed, lost their lives?

CARMODY: I -- I feel that -- that the death toll is going to be -- is going to be much higher than -- than it is. Io have actually heard rumors to that effect through the fire community. But I -- I think the -- the real answer is, is nobody knows. Nobody has gotten down in there and -- and gotten through those homes.

These homes look like the aftermath of a forest fire. All you see left standing are chimneys, burned out cars. You know, it looks a lot like the video that we're all used to seeing from these wildfires. And...


CARMODY: -- I think it's going to be...

ROBERTS: I was going to say, Brian, we should point out, too, that you're a -- you're a veteran of -- of many wildfires there in the northern part of Chicago, including the Oakland Hills fire back in the '90s, which we remember was so horrible.

How does what you have seen this night compare to what you've seen in the past?

CARMODY: This is -- this is something that, you know, I did work the Oakland fire. The Oakland Hills fire as a still photographer. I wasn't doing television at that time. And the fire -- the Oakland Hills fire was a little bit different. The -- the damage was the same. There were actually, you know, obviously, many more homes that had burned. It was a lot bigger fire.

But this was something, due to this gas, that they just couldn't do anything about. They couldn't get in front of it. They couldn't get close to it. You know, they -- there were -- you know, the firefighters were bewildered, you know?

They were kind of walking around -- like, when I got there, I said that they -- they were doing this door to door evacuation, moving door to door, trying to get people out of there. But they weren't doing any firefighting. There was just nothing that they could do to -- to fight this fire until that gas was shut off.

ROBERTS: And just before we go, Brian, what -- what, again, was the corner that you were shooting your video from?

CARMODY: My video was shot at the corner of Vermont and Claremont, in the 1700 block of Claremont.

ROBERTS: All right. Great.

All right, thanks so much.

CHETRY: Thanks, Brian.

We appreciate the video, the pictures and your insight this morning from being there.

One quick note. We're just getting a few Tweets about this situation. One of them is -- is if you're in the area or you're looking for a loved one in the area, the San Bruno emergency hotline. If you need any information or you're looking for lost residents, the number is 650-616-7180. Again, it's 650-616-7180.

And another Tweet coming in, saying, again, echoing the sentiments of the neighbors, saying we smelled gas in this area for weeks.

ROBERTS: Right. And, you know, we saw that incredible iReport video coming into us from Sergion Campos. If you live in the area and you've got some video on your Smartphone or something else, go to, upload it to us and we'll get it on the air just as soon as we can.

We're coming up to about 10 minutes to the top of the hour.

We're going to break for a little while. We'll gather the latest. We're going to have the mayor of San Bruno, James Ruane, join us coming up at the top of the hour.

For now, we're going to turn you back to our regularly scheduled program. But we'll continue our special edition of AMERICAN MORNING coming up to you in about nine or 10 minutes time.

Stay with us.


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