Santa Maria Fire Chief Brad Dandridge has never seen anything like the Aug. 23 house explosion before.
“I’ve been a firefighter for 17 years and the majority of the time was in Fresno. At Fresno, we’ve run into quite a bit of calls and I’ve seen quite a bit of incidents,” Dandridge said. “I’ve seen this on TV, I’ve never seen this live—the devastation from a home exploding.”
Although the investigation in ongoing, the incident was tentatively classified as an accident. As of Aug. 28, the Fire Department believed natural gas caused the house at 1219 Jackie Lane in Santa Maria to explode, destroying the home, injuring four people, and damaging 23 adjacent homes—with the home next door sustaining heavy damage and other nearby homes sustaining minor damage, like broken windows.
According to an Aug. 27 update from the city, the woman who was inside the home at the time is 83 years old and in critical condition with burn injuries. The adjacent neighbor was trapped in rubble and extricated, but is in stable condition. Two others were transferred to the hospital for medical care, but there is no updated information at this time.
The home at 1219 Jackie Lane experienced about $440,000 in structural damage and $100,000 for its contents; 1223 Jackie Lane experienced $425,000 in structural damage and $75,000 for its contents. Estimates for the remaining 22 residences impacted by the incident are still accumulating, the city said in its update.
The Santa Maria Fire Department’s preliminary investigation points to a possible gas leak, but the department is working to identify where the gas leak occurred and whether there were multiple sources of ignition, Dandrige said.
Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas)—the utility provider for this area—responded quickly and arrived on scene to shut off gas service and conduct inspections on its infrastructure for potential leaks, SoCalGas Media Relations Northwest Team Lead Olga Quiñones told the Sun via email.
“Our inspection shows no indications that our infrastructure caused the incident,” Quiñones said. “While SoCalGas is responsible for maintaining the natural gas lines that deliver natural gas to customer meters, customers are responsible for the lines behind their meter.”
Santa Maria city officials red-tagged eight homes as uninhabitable, meaning the structure was compromised or the gas was still turned off, Dandridge said. The Red Cross was called out to support the displaced families, and 15 other homes were green-tagged, meaning they sustained minimal damage but were deemed safe to enter.
“I appreciated the quick response and their actions that gave the best possible outcomes for the people involved. It’s an unfortunate situation, but I’m proud of the way my fire department performed,” Dandridge added.
Through the universal dispatch center that deploys the closest engine to an emergency, SLO and Santa Barbara County fire departments responded to other incidents in the city while Santa Maria responded to the explosion, he said. Santa Barbara County Fire also provided a search dog to help clear the incident and allowed Santa Maria officials to move forward in their investigation process.
“The quick response and quick action that my firefighters did when they did arrive on scene made a chaotic scene as best as it possibly could be,” Dandridge said. “Two people were rescued from rubble and we gave them the best opportunities, and that’s all we can do as a fire department.”
SoCalGas offers no-cost services to customers who suspect natural gas leaks on their property, including their appliances, Quiñones added, and customers should call (800) 427-2200 if they suspect a natural gas leak.
“I hope it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. The home was in rubble, there were no more walls, no more ceiling. In the initial explosion, the fire was limited but the home was in rubble, all that was left was the frame,” Dandridge said.