SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – More than 200 people await news on whether they can return to their homes after a 15-acre fire caused by a broken gas line destroyed dozens of homes and claimed four lives in San Bruno, south of San Francisco. Latest reports confirmed 37 homes were destroyed, and eight more damaged.
“We’re receiving a great deal of questions and concerns from residents about when they will be able to access their homes. Our information, best case scenario, we may be able to release access to some of the areas of the destruction territory by tomorrow,” said San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson at a press briefing with state and local officials Friday evening.
“At this time I cannot guarantee that will occur,” she said. “We still have a significant amount of work to do.”
Jackson said although some homes may look unscathed, they may yet have suffered unseen structural damage.
“There are still a lot of hazards at the site,” said Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado. “We just came back from the area, still a lot of smoldering going on and in those cases we can’t get our canines in to check. As much as we want to let folks go back to their homes, the area is still a very dangerous area. We’ve had a lot of requests from folks that want to go home and go see their property. We’re asking them to understand that please, safety is first.”
Matthew Bettenhausen with California’s Emergency Management Agency echoed Maldonado’s statements, adding PG&E is still working to restore power in the area and the city is also dealing with sewage problems from the explosion.
“This is the beginning of a long recovery process. I’ve talked with FEMA we’re going to have assessors to start assessing the uninsured damage Monday.” Bettenhausen said 12 canine teams have been scouring the area for additional fatalities and six more teams will join them. “So far we have not found any additional fatalities.” said Bettenhausen.
“This is still a hot area which can affect the ability of these dogs to detect.”
As of Friday, the fire is 100 percent contained, though San Bruno Fire Chief Dennis Haag said hotspots still exist beneath the debris that the department is working to extinguish. “We’re very hopeful there are no further victims,” Haag said.
“We still do not have any requests of missing persons at this time.” Three burn victims are still in critical condition at St. Francis Hospital and Haag said the rest of the reported 52 victims have been treated for their injuries and discharged.
Earlier today, Maldonado signed an executive order he said “is cutting red tape for victims in their families” by proclaiming a state of emergency in San Mateo county and providing assistance to those displaced by the devastation.
Maldonado also said he spoke this evening with President Barack Obama, who offered his condolences to the victims. “He’s concerned, he’s watching from afar. He sends his prayers to the victims and says thank you so much to the first responders. He’s with us all the way,” Maldonado said.
Under questioning regarding reports that neighborhood residents had been smelling gas for at least a week, Haag said there are no records indicating the fire department had been called to investigate, and that he “couldn’t speak for PG&E.”
“It is still devastation and it must be fixed,” Maldonado said. “The community needs answers and the people of California need answers. We need to know how this happened and we need to know why this happened.”