Flames shot through cracks in the road near the Oakland Zoo Tuesday morning after a 4-inch natural gas pipeline erupted and caught fire for hours.
About 25 Oakland firefighters and a hazmat team raced to the fire, first reported about 8:30 a.m., at Golf Links Road and Fontaine Street off Interstate Highway 580 near Holy Redeemer College and the Oakland Zoo.
PG&E crews shut off the flow of gas at 11:37 a.m., and the flames died down by early afternoon as crews let the fire burn itself out.
“We wanted to make sure natural gas wasn’t migrating into homes, which could pose a greater safety risk,” said PG&E’s Brittany Chord. “It’s like a pilot light. We want to make sure you know exactly where that natural gas is that it’s burning off into the atmosphere.”
At least 20 EBMUD customers were without water as lines were shut off as a precautionary measure.
Six homes were evacuated, and no injuries were reported. Other residents were told to shelter in place. By 1 p.m., the evacuation order had been lifted.
"I started thinking about San Bruno," evacuee James Gouig said. "Now, I'm freaking out. What do I got to grab out of the house? You always think, 'Grab photos,' but we don't have photos anymore, so I just grabbed the iPhone."
Gouig was referring to the Sept. 9, 2010, San Bruno pipeline explosion when a natural gas pipeline owned by Pacific Gas and Electric exploded into flames and killed eight people.
PG&E says this situation was much different from San Bruno.
"Two very different pipelines,” Chord said. “The transmission pipe in San Bruno was much bigger in diameter and operating in a much higher pressure.”
The San Bruno pipeline is 36 inches in diameter, with natural gas being pushed through at 300 pounds per square inch. The Oakland Hills pipeline that caught fire Tuesday is 4 inches round, with 60 pounds of gas pressure per square inch. It pipeline was isntalled in 1946.
After the San Bruno explosion, the NTSB made recommendations that PG&E install automatic shutoff valves on its underground pipelines. PG&E says it made a decision to begin installing shutoff devices on its larger transmission sites. So far they’ve stayed away from implementing the same technology on its small distribution pipelines like this one.
That’s information Gouig says he just has to live with.
"I’m grateful no houses blew up and nobody got hurt,” Gouig said.
The cause of the rupture is under investigation, though PG&E crews said they didn't think the cold weather had any part in the leak. PG&E crews set up lights and planned to work into the evening Tuesday night.