San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom today praised his city’s mutual aid response to the explosion and fire disaster in San Bruno but also warned PG&E officials that San Francisco was watching the ongoing investigation closely.
Newsom spoke this afternoon at a gathering of department heads and officials who make up the city’s Disaster Council.
Newsom called Thursday’s explosion a “tragic incident” that “will impact the lives of hundreds of families for years and years to come.”
Four people have been confirmed dead in the blaze and another 52 people hospitalized.
Thirty-eight homes were destroyed and dozens more were damaged.
The San Francisco Fire Department assisted by sending 12 fire suppression units to the fire, and the San Francisco International Airport provided three units.
San Francisco General Hospital and Saint Francis Memorial Hospital are each caring for four critically injured fire victims, and four other patients are being cared for at two other San Francisco hospitals.
Assistance was coordinated through San Francisco’s Department of Emergency Management.
Newsom praised the coordination between San Mateo County emergency responders and agencies in other Bay Area counties, including San Francisco.
“It was done with an efficient protocol,” he said.
Newsom also pledged continued assistance to San Bruno.
“We are here to be supportive, and we will do everything in our power to do that,” he said.
PG&E officials attended the Disaster Council meeting to advise Newsom and the council on the investigation so far.
“The PG&E family is deeply saddened and devastated by this tragic event,” said Mark Johnson, PG&E vice president of electric operations and engineering. He offered condolences to the families impacted by the fire.
Johnson said the rupture of a 30-inch PG&E gas main transmission line is still being investigated. The National Transportation Safety Board is the lead investigator in the case.
“I would caution everyone that it’s really premature at this point,” Johnson said. “There will be a thorough investigation.”
Johnson pledged that PG&E would cooperate fully with the NTSB in the investigation, which he estimated could take “several months,” and said PG&E would accept responsibility if found to be at fault.
“We plan to be accountable if in fact that’s what the investigation reveals,” he said.
Newsom, however, asked Johnson for assurances that Thursday’s explosion was not connected to an underground fire in a PG&E vault this morning in San Francisco, the latest in a series of underground vault fires in San Francisco in recent years.
“We’ve been through this with you guys,” Newsom said. A similar problem at Polk and O’Farrell streets in June 2009 sent a 20-foot fireball into the air.
At about 7 a.m. this morning, the San Francisco Fire Department received reports of an explosion at Montgomery and Sutter streets, a downtown area located near a busy BART station.
One witness reported flames and black smoke coming from a grate in the middle of the street, according to Fire Department spokeswoman Lt. Mindy Talmadge. Another reported two PG&E manholes blowing off, she said.
The fire was out by the time firefighters arrived, Talmadge said.
PG&E officials told Newsom this afternoon that there was no connection between the San Bruno gas line explosion and the San Francisco incident, which was electrical.
Newsom also asked about whether a similar gas explosion could happen in San Francisco.
“I don’t believe that that would be the case,” said Johnson, but he cautioned that until investigators learn the cause of the explosion, “it’s really difficult to completely rule that out.”
Newsom said, “I can’t accept another utility failure…the next morning (after the explosion), that’s along the same pattern” as the previous underground problems in San Francisco.