A construction crew accidentally ruptured a natural gas transmission line on Friday in Fresno, California, sparking an explosion and fire that injured up to 15 people, three of them critically, officials said.
The 12-inch (30-cm) pipeline, belonging to Pacific Gas & Electric Corp, was struck by a backhoe near state Highway 99, unleashing a fireball that injured members of the construction team and a prison inmate crew in the vicinity, Fresno Fire Department spokesman Peter Martinez said.
The accident prompted closure of the highway in both directions, along with an adjacent railroad line, Martinez said. Rail traffic was halted to allow a bridge that carries the tracks over a river to be inspected for possible damage, he said.
One worker was flown by helicopter to a hospital in critical condition, and 13 or 14 other people were taken to hospitals for evaluation and treatment of various injuries, according to Martinez.
Four of the injured were taken to Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, hospital spokeswoman Mary Lisa Russell said. Three were in critical condition and one in serious condition with burns, she said.
The pipeline was ruptured at about 2:30 p.m., and it was expected to take PG&E until 6:30 p.m. (0130 GMT Saturday) to shut off the flow of gas from it, Martinez said.
The Fresno Bee, citing Fresno County Administrative Officer John Navarrette, said a county public works equipment operator struck the natural gas line.
The employee, who was badly burned, was the patient airlifted to Community Regional Medical Center, the Bee reported, citing Navarrette. Among the injured were prison inmates on a work detail, the newspaper reported, citing Sheriff Margaret Mims.
The accident occurred in Fresno County at a shooting range used by law enforcement, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department told the newspaper. Fresno is about 190 miles (300 km) southeast of San Francisco.
The California Public Utilities Commission sent a team to Fresno to investigate the explosion, spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said.
“The CPUC will conduct a full investigation of the explosion and has already coordinated with the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration,” Prosper said.
A PG&E representative said the utility was also investigating.
(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Rory Carroll in San Francisco; Editing by Eric Beech and Sandra Maler)
SOURCE: Sharon Bernstein