Fire fighters combat fire related to an explosion at Geary Boulevard Wednesday, February 6, 2019. Courtesy of the San Francisco Fire Department.

Gas line explosion sends flames into the air, sets five buildings on fire

Flames shot 40 feet into the air Wednesday afternoon as the San Francisco Fire Department worked to contain fire from a gas line explosion at Geary Boulevard and Parker Avenue.

The fire, which appears to have been caused by a third-party contractor working in the area, initially affected four buildings but later spread to a fifth building across the street, according to Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

All eight workers who were installing fiber optic cabling in the street at the site of the explosion have been “accounted for,” according to Hayes-White. The fire erupted just outside Hong Kong Lounge II restaurant around 1:18 p.m.

“I was coming in on the bus and I saw this ball of flame in the sky,” said Richmond District resident Roberto Figueroa, at the site of the fire. “All the people on the bus yelled, and we all jumped out.”

No injuries were reported, Hayes-White said.

Nearly 120 firefighters were on the scene, according to a fire department spokesperson.

Initially, the fire was reported as a two-alarm explosion but the fire department later upgraded it to a three-alarm response. However firefighters had to wait to make an aggressive attack on the fire until the gas line was capped by PG&E shortly after 3:30 p.m.

The fire was reported under control shortly before 4:15 p.m. but fire officials said roads were likely to remain closed through the night. Buses were rerouting around the area.

Hayes-White said “no one” was in danger during the fire “except the firefighters.” The fire department is advising people to avoid the area.

There are apartments above the restaurant, but it was not immediately clear how many people would be displaced.

Sunny Han, who lives on Geary Boulevard and Spruce Street, said she was evacuated from her home along with her family by police shortly after the incident.

“I was napping and heard a really loud explosion,” she said. “The fire just shot up into the sky, like five stores high.”

Supervisor Sandra Fewer, whose district borders the fire scene, said she was relieved to hear there were no serious injuries or loss of life from the “terrifying” gas explosion.

“My heart goes out to the surrounding neighbors and small businesses who have been temporarily displaced,” Fewer said. “My office will be working with City departments to make sure those affected by the fire will have access to the resources they need to get back on their feet.”

Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Catherine Stefani, who represents the neighborhood, arrived at the scene late in the afternoon to thank firefighters and assure residents that city departments were available to assist them.

The American Red Cross set up at the Mel’s Diner across the street from the fire to offer assistance to displaced residents, and city officials opened a shelter for at the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption at 111 Gough St. starting at 6 p.m.

The fire left around 3,000 residents in the area without power Wednesday afternoon and cut off gas service several hundred as well, according to PG&E.

Spokesperson Paul Doherty said the utility was “working hand-in-hand and shoulder-to-shoulder with the fire department to make the situation safe.”

Doherty emphasized that “this was a third-party dig-in related to a construction project not in any way related to PG&E.”

When asked why it took PG&E more than two hours to shut off the gas, Doherty said the company was required to move very carefully and dig by hand in order to reach the gas line that needed to be capped.

Hayes-White did not have information on the name of the subcontractor. City records indicate that MCI Metro/Verizon currently has a permit to excavate and place a conduit for fiber optic cables on Geary Boulevard in the area where the incident occurred.

Verizon spokesperson Heidi Flato said the company was “aware of the situation” but could not confirm that it was a Verizon project. “Our folks are investigating,” she said.

Two years ago when a similar gas line explosion sparked a fire in the Bernal Heights neighborhood, it took PG&E three hours to stop the flow of gas.

 

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San Francisco Fire fighters work to extinguish a gas line-related fire in the Richmond District on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019. (Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)




Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez has contributed to this report.

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