PG&E defends their response to SF fire

June 13, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
PG&E insists they did the right thing when they shut off a gas valve at its fire ignition site in San Francisco, but not everyone is buying PG&E's story.

Neighbor Nestor Montes shot some video of the scene as fire erupted on San Bruno Avenue on Tuesday.

San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White has been publicly critical of the more than two hours it took PG&E to shut off the gas flow to the fire. PG&E says it always does a review of its actions after an incident like this one. But for the time being it appears it acted in the fastest and safest way possible.

As the flames consumed his building, owner Dr. Justin Lin watched helplessly, but with newfound gratitude for San Francisco firefighters.

"I have totally another feeling, another level of appreciation for our firemen risking their lives and trying to save a building for us," said Lin. He has quite a different feeling for PG&E. "What I'm blaming is PG&E did not shut off the gas valve on time."

PG&E says the fire started when a contractor welding a water pipe in a new building next door burned through and ignited a 1-inch plastic natural gas service line running too close to the torch. He was critically injured.

PG&E says it could not shut off the main gas valve because it was right there at the ignition site. So it had to locate lines feeding the two buildings further back, across the street, which involved digging through pavement and a couple feet of dirt. Then closing a valve, and pinching the pipe.

"Our highest priority in an emergency situation like that is connecting with our first responders and also making sure that we're shutting off gas in the safest and quickest way possible, and last night digging those two holes and cutting off the source of gas was the fastest and quickest way," said Chord.

PG&E says the digging was the most time-consuming part of the process. Lin says based on what he saw, it was figuring out where to dig. He says workers appeared confused, going back and forth between the two holes.

"I believe they don't have a map, or any clue what they are doing and they don't really care," said Lin.

When asked if there was any trouble in determining where to dig the two holes, Chord said, "We were in constant contact with our mapping unit."

That was the best answer we could get in finding out if there was a delay in knowing where to dig.

The fire department says the welder critically injured on Tuesday has been upgraded to stable condition.

Also the fire department could not confirm this, but PG&E says it is discovered that the contractor working on the new building when the fire started never made that all-important 811 call to have all the utilities come out and mark where their lines are. That could have prevented this fire, possibly if the welder had known how close the natural gas line was to his torch.


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