Tire marks are etched into the road in front of the meadow where Bob Hensel’s home once stood.
But these are no tracks from a peeled-out vehicle. Rather, they were carved into the road when Hensel drove away from his burning home on a road so hot that it melted under his tires.
Hensel stood over those grooves on Tuesday, a glass of champagne in his hand, eyes glittering as he broke ground on a new home on the same spot.
“This was my escape vehicle,” he said, patting his wife’s car. “It was in the garage. My other car was in the driveway. That one was on fire.”
The groundbreaking ceremony, witnessed by the Hensels’ large family, the leaders of their city, their congresswoman and dozens of invited media and other guests, was short but joyful. It represented the reseeding of the San Bruno neighborhood that was destroyed in September, when a PG&E natural-gas line erupted into flames.
The day of the explosion, the ball of fire blew from Crestmoor Drive to the front door of the Hensels’ house two blocks away before he could even look out the front window.
The fire formed so suddenly and ferociously that Charley Gray, whose home once stood across the street from the Hensels’, remembers glancing out the window and screaming, “Holy, Christ, there’s a volcano forming in the back yard!”
Hensel remembered the crushing heat. If his wife’s car hadn’t been in the garage, he might not have made it to safety.
“It seemed like there was no air to breathe,” he said.
The wind carried his words through the lupine and tall grasses on the scarred lot where his home once stood.