San Bernardino, CA Gasoline Pipeline Explosion, May 1989


San Bernardino, Calif. (AP) -- A gasoline pipeline exploded and killed three people just days after residents were assured it had not been damaged by a runaway train that plowed through the same neighborhood two weeks ago.
"It looks like a bomb went off over Duffy Street," City Attorney James Penman said after the Thursday morning blast that sent flames 300 feet skyward and produced heat so intense that pets and corn stalks were singed two blocks away.
Thirty-one people were injured in the explosion that also destroyed 10 homes and 18 cars. About 300 people were ordered to leave their homes for the night.
"It's like a nightmare," said Delores Jones, whose house was destroyed by the fire. "I haven't slept since the train wreck. It's come back to haunt me."
The May 12 train wreck leveled a row of homes and killed four people.
The National Transportation Board is investigating the explosion, but Calney Pipeline Co. manager Ken Seal said there was a "very good possibility" the company's 14-inch pipeline was damaged by the train accident.
The city and an attorney for more than 100 residents announced plans to file lawsuits against the Las Vegas company. The residents also plan to sue the city and the rail line, Southern Pacific.
"We did not feel in the first place they should have started up that railroad as quickly as they did. And we particularly tried to get the pipeline shut down. Now look what happened," said residents' attorney James H. Davis, who was hired after the train wreck.
The neighborhood was evacuated for several days after the train jumped the track because of fears the pipeline might have been weakened. The city was assured the line was safe when it reopened several days ago, Penman said.
The body of a woman killed in the blast was found in the back yard of a home pinned to a chain-link fence. The other two fatalities, an adult and child, were found next door.
"A woman said she ran out of her house, she left behind her sister, her cousin and a 6-month-old baby inside, and she looked back, and the house blew up behind her," said Councilwoman Valerie Pope-Ludlam.
Just before the blast, a fountain of gasoline spouted above ground, said Paul Allaire, a city information officer. "It was up in the air -- high pressure -- like a geyser," he said.
The pipeline carries gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from a tank farm in Colton, several miles from the blaze site in southern Nevada, supplying the Las Vegas valley with 90 percent of its fuel.
It was buried 6 feet deep near the spot where the train derailed.
Once the explosion occurred, the flow of fuel through the pipeline was shut off, said Jed Robinson, Calnev's general manager in San Bernardino. But fuel remaining in the shattered pipe continued to burn fiercely through much of the day. Robinson said up to 12,000 gallons of gasoline burned.
Residents have complained recently that train wheels throw off sparks as they pass and that railroad crews have to walk alongside afterward and douse small fires.
A freight train passed over the tracks 10 minutes before the explosion, said Southern Pacific spoikesman Bob Taggart.
There was no immediate evidence, however, that sparks from the passing train triggered the blast.

Indiana Gazette Pennsylvania 1989-05-26