A massive fireball knocked out power and gas, and burned for several hours in northeast Bakersfield Monday morning. A repaving machine hit a natural gas line and caught fire just before 8:30 a.m. at Alta Vista Drive and Linden Avenue.
The steel pipe line is two inches thick, but firefighters say it was only seven inches below the surface. It hasn't been revealed yet what started the fire. Twenty-five firefighters made sure it didn't spread.
The county contracted Burtch Construction Company who contracted Paving Recyclers to do the repaving project, according to the Bakersfield Fire Department.
Hundreds of residents were affected. According to PG&E, 300 customers lost power, seven had to evacuate and sand bags were brought in to control flooding caused by one of the hydrants.
"I heard like a boom boom," said LaDon Scott.
"I heard a couple of them one right after another," said Don Bollard, a nearby homeowner.
"I came out to look and the asphalt was just on fire," said Gina Burns.
"They said when they hit it everyone took off running and they hit the emergency stop button, but the natural gas went into the engine and kept it going," said Joseph Schaffran of Burtch Construction who was part of the project.
This lit a fire that shot high into the sky, licking the power lines above.
"It is a little freaky," said Burns whose power was out.
Seven homes were also evacuated, including the home LaDon Scott was house sitting.
"I don't get scared easy," said Scott. "I am too old to get scared."
"There's also a water leak main down the street," said Burns.
That lined is operated by Cal Water according to firefighters. Crews said the line burst when firefighters turned on a fire hydrant. This burst caused flooding all the way down Alta Vista Drive into a man's driveway. It was sopped up eventually with giant industrial sponges, sandbags, and brooms.
The natural gas line leaked three hours, burning the vehicle just as long.
"A lot of man hours put into this and a lot of firefighters on scene with multiple hose lines," said Anthony Galagaza, Battalion Chief for the Bakersfield Fire Department.
While the damage is estimated between $500,000 to $750,000, with no injuries residents say it could have been worse.
"We don't have a swarm of locusts going so I think we're good," said Dennis Burns. "The sky is blue and not green."
PG&E said the crew had to dig at least four feet below the surface. It's not an easy task, according to Bakersfield firefighting crews, considering the age of the pipe and the material it's made of.
"At first they didn't know what it was, but then all the dirt was just blowing," said Schaffran.
Schaffran said his crew thought the line was deeper.
"This is an old gas line that's been there for about 30 years," said Schaffran. "They were supposed to come lower it before we started grinding."
PG&E said they are looking into that claim. They said they're still investigating whether the company made the proper underground checks which requires a call to 811 and getting a valid USA, which only lasts for 28 days.
"You really need to call 811," said Katie Allen, spokesperson for PG&E. "We're still investigating whether the contractor had a valid USA which is what they get when they call 811."
Allen said the average depth of PG&E gas lines is 26 to 30 inches. The Bakersfield Fire Department said it's common for lines to shift depth with time.
"It could have been a foot underground, but due to the time of repaving and digging up the dirt causes it to resurface," said Galagaza.
According to PG&E, it took crews three hours to shut off the gas line.
"You have to isolate the gas because you have to go to each side and then they can get to plug it and stop the leak of gas, and that is very typical of how you shut off the flow of gas in a gas leak," said Allen.
The Bakersfield Fire Department said the reason it took hours to shut off the gas lines was because it was hard to locate the pipe and the pipe was made of steel.
"Plastic is easier to pinch off at the source," said Galagaza.
According to PG&E, electricity was restored to customers by 11:45 a.m. As of 7 p.m. crews were still working to restore gas to seven customers, but estimated they would be done by 9 p.m.