See all coverage of the San Bruno fire on this page

This morning, crews began their second day removing rubble and belongings from houses incinerated by a gas line explosion and fire that tore through a San Bruno neighborhood earlier this month.

“What you see here will be a dirt lot and nothing else,” said Dean Peterson, director of San Mateo County’s Environmental Health Division.

For the first time since the Sept. 9 blast, several members of the media were allowed today to tour the Crestmoor Canyon neighborhood where a natural gas pipeline ruptured, sparking a fire that destroyed 37 houses and significantly damaged more than a dozen others.

Seven people were killed in the fire and more than 50 others were hospitalized.

Peterson said the total cost of the cleanup, which involved a crew of about 50 today, will run between $1.7 million and $2 million.

Twenty-nine homeowners have agreed to the department’s assistance, he said. One is currently refusing help from the department, and five others are currently negotiating how they would like their properties handled, Peterson said.

Two other homes have been “red-tagged” by authorities, which signifies houses have been deemed destroyed, but the property owners have the option of repairing them, Peterson said.

When teams finish in about three to four weeks, most demolished homes will be nothing more than piles of dirt on lots ready for reconstruction.

Several homes were completely obliterated from the fire that ensued from the pipeline rupture. The gutted sites had little more than a chimney left standing around burned belongings and shattered glass.

Peterson said a few patios and foundation may be saved, but most will be removed because of the chemical changes the concrete may have experienced from the explosion’s heat.

He said he could not confirm if human remains were still on the sites being cleaned, but that crews have been given permission to do their work by the San Mateo County coroner’s office.

Department teams plan to scrape three to four inches of dirt off the foundations of destroyed homes and will then test it for various harmful substances, including metals.

“We want to give these folks peace of mind that the property they’re going onto is safe,” Peterson said.

A metal playground rested near the crash site, half twisted and melted from the explosion, which happened near Claremont Drive and Vermont Way.

A lamppost stood by itself amidst rubble near one of the houses.

Totaled cars littered streets and driveways cracked from the fire, unable to be moved without a forklift because the rubber on the tires was melted away.

Crews pumped water over the debris to keep dust and smoke from circulating in the area.

Many unscathed homes near the site had bright green papers taped on their garage doors, signifying the house had been inspected and was safe to enter.

Others had signs taped to the outside walls that thanked police, fire, and American Red Cross for their hard work.

“This is not a job for these crews. They understand that they’re in someone’s home,” Peterson said. “They understand they’re dealing with people’s prized possessions.”

The San Bruno City Council authorized the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office to provide 24-hour security in the area for the next four weeks as crews complete their work.

The City Council is also waiving water and garbage bills for certain homeowners of destroyed homes for the months of August and September.

City Manager Connie Jackson added that the city’s recovery center at 900 Cherry Street remains open, and victims of the explosion can still go there for recovery assistance.

“We’re doing the best we can,” Jackson said.

Saul Sugarman, Bay City News

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!