SAN FRANCISCO — A huge explosion — possibly from a gas line — rocked the nearby suburb of San Bruno shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday, sending up a massive, smoky fireball seen for miles and igniting a blaze that gobbled up at least dozens of houses in a densely populated neighborhood.
The fire roared through a mostly residential neighborhood in the hills south of San Francisco. The explosion Thursday evening shot a fireball more than 1,000 feet into the air and sent frightened residents fleeing for safety, witnesses said.
The fire was burning in the town of San Bruno a few miles from San Francisco International Airport, prompting initial speculation that it was sparked by a plane crash. Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency had no record of a crash. Spokesmen for local airports also said they knew of no missing planes.
Pacific Gas and Electric is looking into the possibility of a natural gas explosion but had no additional information, said spokesman J.D. Guidi.
Live footage on KPIX-TV showed at least a dozen homes destroyed, with flames reaching as high as 60 feet in the air as the fire fueled itself on the burning homes. Planes and helicopters flew over the neighborhood dumping water in an effort to stanch the flames.
One injured person was taken to San Francisco General Hospital and one to St. Francis Medical Center, said hospital spokeswoman Rachael Kagan.
There was no immediate word on fatalities.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported late Thursday on its website that the fire quickly jumped from structure to structure as emergency crews rushed in and residents cleared out. The paper said residents heard rumbling before the blast
A local fire chief told an area television reporter he believed the fire was caused by a "high pressure gas line."
Sheriff's deputies and police were evacuating residents near the fireball. Firefighters went door to door, ordering people out of their houses and setting up equipment.
Drivers on nearby Interstate 280 and other roads near the area stopped to gawk as the relentless flames surge skyward.
Omar Naber and his mother, Lana Naber, were in their home when the house shook violently.
"I thought it was the biggest earthquake ever," he said.
He ran to the front door and tried to open it, but the door handle was too hot. He ran to his room, grabbed his car keys and fled the house with his mother. As they ran to the car, which was parked on the street, they could see a fireball. The heat was so intense, it burned the hair off his arms.
He said he believes the explosion hit perhaps the next street over.
Information from the San Francisco Chronicle and Associated Press were used in this report.