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Blast Burns 10 Homes; 2 Die : Gas Explosion at Crash Site of Runaway Train

May 25, 1989|KEVIN RODERICK and JENIFER WARREN | Times Staff Writers

SAN BERNARDINO — At least two people died and 25 were injured this morning when a fireball from a ruptured gasoline line engulfed homes and outraced fleeing children in the same low-income neighborhood where a killer, runaway freight train ripped through a row of houses two weeks ago.

Ten homes were leveled in Thursday's new tragedy in the Muscoy section of western San Bernardino. Six people have died and 21 homes, most of them on Duffy Street, have been destroyed in the neighborhood since the morning of May 12.

The gasoline leak and fireball erupted about 8 a.m. in what used to be the yard of a house on the west side of Duffy Street, one of 11 homes destroyed when a speeding freight train jumped the tracks on a curve. The rubble had been cleared and the west side of the street fenced before this morning's fire, which destroyed homes on the east side of Duffy that were unscathed by the train derailment.

Train Passes By

Witnesses said today's firestorm, which sent thick black smoke towering 300 feet and forced evacuation of several blocks, whipped through the neighborhood moments after a freight train roared past on the repaired tracks.

"The train went by, and then I heard this loud bang. I just started running," said Leah Thomas, 10, who was waiting for her school bus when the fireball erupted. "My backpack fell off, and I got burned on my arm by the heat. I was screaming. There was smoke and flames."

While she was being treated by paramedics, Thomas reflected on the last 14 days. "I just want to leave this place," she said. "I don't want to live here anymore."

When the fire erupted, firefighters at a nearby station felt the concussion. As they boarded their trucks, a car pulled up carrying six burned people.

Authorities were unclear if the passing train sparked the fireball. They speculated that sparks from a three-car accident on nearby Highland Avenue may have set off a cloud of gasoline fumes, but there were no firm clues to the cause immediately.

John Montgomery, a planner for the city of San Bernardino, said today that a gasoline odor had been reported by people in the area in the past few days.

The 14-inch, steel gasoline line owned by the Cal-Nevada Pipeline Co. was carrying unleaded fuel 250 miles to Las Vegas. It was under high pressure to push the fuel up the El Cajon grade into the upper desert.

Unaware of Line

Residents said they were unaware of the gasoline line running beneath their properties until the train wreck. The pipeline is a major conduit that moves about 3 million gallons of gasoline daily and supplies 90% of the gasoline sold in Las Vegas.

After the May 12 derailment, residents were evacuated while the train cars and locomotive were removed and the fuel line inspected. Residents returned to their homes and fuel resumed flowing the week after the derailment.

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