The massive natural gas explosions that killed four people and destroyed at least 37 homes in San Bruno Thursday night might have some area residents suspiciously eyeing their gas stoves and cooktops.
But a Northern San Joaquin Valley public safety official said the ruptured 30-inch steel gas transmission pipeline that set an entire neighborhood ablaze and injured at least 50 people is a rare occurrence.
"I'm pretty sure everyone realizes (the San Bruno explosion) was a really unique situation," said Modesto Fire Battalion Chief Hugo Patino. "For the most part, we have natural gas and electricity distributed throughout our world, and it's done in a safe and efficient manner."
Still, it highlights the need to be vigilant when it comes to natural gas safety and disaster preparedness.
PG&E spokeswoman Nicole Liebelt said customers who suspect a gas leak in or outside of their homes should contact PG&E immediately and vacate the area. While natural gas has no odor, the company adds an odorant to the gas to give it a pungent sulfurlike smell for easy detection.
"We take gas safety and service very seriously, and the No. 1 thing customers can do is call us," Liebelt said. "Gas and electricity can be very dangerous."
Something as simple as leaving a gas burner on may not require a professional's attention, because a small amount of natural gas will dissipate if windows are opened and the house is ventilated. But Liebelt said any leak should be examined.
Patino said 911 should also be called for leaks, so the local fire department can assess the situation. The utility company usually is notified simultaneously.
"We need to figure out if it is a gas main or just a loose valve or fitting," Patino said. "If the problem is greater than our scope to handle, then of course we are going to call PG&E."
Leaks inside the home could force the residents to evacuate, and those outside could require a larger area be cleared.
Patino said people should know where their gas meters and valves are so they can turn them off manually, which takes a pipe or Crescent-type wrench.
Instructions for shutdown are available at the pge.com Web site. Liebelt said the company recommends residents call PG&E to have a professional shut off the valve in most cases.
For more information on natural gas or to report a leak, call PG&E at 800-743-5000 or visit www.pge.com/myhome/edusafety.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2284.