Fairfax Area Stores, School Begin to Open After Blast

Times Staff Writers

A few shoppers returned to stores and about 400 students returned to classrooms as life in the Fairfax District began to gradually return to normal this morning in the aftermath of the methane gas leaks and explosion that had forced evacuation of a four-block area since Sunday.

Deputy Los Angeles Fire Chief Don Anthony said the decision to reopen the area was made after monitoring devices installed at various points indicated that methane gas seepage from subterranean oil deposits had diminished to levels that were generally considered safe.

Hancock Classes Resume

While classes at Hancock Park Elementary School resumed on full scale, merchants were still restocking shelves, catching up on paper work and--in the cases of shops handling perishable foods--clearing up the mess that had been accumulating since the blast tore through a discount clothing store Sunday afternoon. The explosion injured 20 people and ignited scores of small blazes that flickered from rents torn in the ground.

Clerk 'Just Relaxed'

Business was still off, but at Walder's Wines and Spirits--one of scores of shops that had been shut down in the Farmers Market complex--one clerk didn't seem to mind.

"I'll just relax," said the young man, who had stopped by for a paycheck. "Just like I did Monday, Tuesday and yesterday."

Victor Fosh, 92, who's been shopping at Farmers Market for more than a quarter of a century, said he wasn't in any hurry, either.

"That's OK," he said as he lounged on a bench, watching storekeepers scramble to get ready for business. "I can wait. I can wait."

Part of Street Closed

Motorists wishing to use 3rd Street between Fairfax and Burnside avenues will have to wait, too--at least until Friday. Firemen said they are still uncertain about methane levels along the thoroughfare and are keeping it closed as a precaution.

But in general, Anthony said, the area seems to be safe. As if in confirmation of this, firemen were unable to keep lit a flame atop a venting well sunk to help relieve underground gas pressure.

Various technical problems had delayed attempts to light the flame, and when firefighters finally touched it off at 3:17 p.m. Wednesday, it flickered feebly for about 10 minutes--and then winked out. Later attempts to keep the flame burning met with similar results and at 7 p.m., authorities finally gave up.

"Let it stay out," Fire Battalion Chief Tom Stiers said. "We'll keep monitoring the area and we can light it again if the gas pressure increases."

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