On Friday, the 17th of April, during the afternoon, a major gas pipeline from Fresno, in Central California exploded in a huge block of fire, leaving at least 11 people injured. As a consequence of the massive blast, one of the major arteries, the heavily trafficked Highway 99 was closed in both directions. This obviously caused delayed traffic in the area.
The California Highway Patrol reported that the highway was closed at around 2.30 while the flames were still active and was reopened three hours after that.
The incident occurred while a jail inmate crew were working with a country equipment operator to extend the Fresno County Sheriff’s gun range along Highway 99. Fourteen people were engaged in the expansion of the gun range at that time. The fire department received two alarm calls that prompted them to arrive at the scene of the explosion.
According to Fresno County medical services director, Dan Lynch, four patients were transported to St. Agnes Hospital and other three were taken to Madera Community Hospital. Out of these, three were examined and sent back to prison and two deputies were evaluated for exposure to heat and ringing ears. Four more victims were taken to the Community Regional Medical Center’s burn trauma unit. Three of them were reported to be in critical condition and one in very serious condition.
People who saw it said that the flames shot up at least 100 feet in the sky and that it was a very impressive view, like taken from a movie. One of them said he was driving by shortly after the explosion and that the flames looked bigger and bigger. From his perspective, they were more than 200 feet tall and they ended in an immense fireball of at least 10 feet in diameter. The site got really hot as well and people were able to feel the heat even if they had the windows of their cars up and their air conditioning on. The blast caused an earthquake sensation throughout the whole surrounding area.
Primary investigations at the site could not immediately determine what caused the explosion. However, it is believed that one of the machines used by the crew hit a Pacific Gas& Electric Co. 12-inch diameter pipe which carried natural gas and provoked the blast, according to Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims. Investigators are not yet able to tell how deeply the gas pipe was hit. It is also not clear yet if the equipment that hit it was digging at the time but the driver of the equipment was taken to the medical unit in very serious condition, by helicopter. A spokesman of PG&E did not say whether a representative of the company was at the site of the explosion or not. This is not the first time this company is involved in this sort of investigation. In 2010, another explosion involving a PG&E pipeline in San Francisco killed eight people. They were blamed for the lack of appropriate safety regulations and had to pay $1.6 penalty, which is the highest against a utility.
The explosion is being investigated by the California Public Utilities Commission in cooperation with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Image Source: Reutersmedia