A contractor at a construction site punctured a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) natural gas pipeline in the tony Richmond District in the northwest quadrant of San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon, sparking a fire that burned at least four buildings. No injuries were reported.
Before nightfall PG&E had isolated the damaged distribution pipeline and shut the gas flow and city firefighters put out the fires to commercial and residential buildings along a main thoroughfare, Geary Boulevard. By early evening Wednesday, a PG&E spokesperson at the scene said about 300 gas utility customers and 2,500 electric customers were without service.
The isolation and gas shutdown "took a little longer than usual," said the spokesperson, but it enabled the utility to avoid having to shut off gas service to thousands of customers on a cold winter night.
"Utility crews were at the scene within minutes, but because the area has many underground services, it took extra time to isolate the punctured pipe," the PG&E spokesperson said.
Fire officials reported that a contract crew installing fiber optic cable at the construction site struck the PG&E distribution line, igniting a fire to the backhoe equipment and spreading to a nearby bar/restaurant.
PG&E last month filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because of an estimated $30 billion in potential liabilities related to early 20 wildfires that struck Northern California over the past two years. The utility is still serving five years of probation for its conviction of federal criminal charges stemming from the 2010 San Bruno, CA, gas transmission pipeline explosion that killed eight people in the suburb south of San Francisco.
The San Francisco fire chief noted that Wednesday's incident in no way resembled the community-wide destruction and deaths involved in San Bruno.