Pipeline That Triggered Fire Reactivated : Judge in Santa Ana Says He Lacks Jurisdiction to Halt Flow

Times Staff Writers

The gasoline pipeline that ruptured and set off a deadly fire in a San Bernardino neighborhood May 25 was reactivated Friday after the federal Office of Pipeline Safety gave its approval and the latest moves in federal court to block recharging of the line failed.

At a press briefing on the site of the explosion that killed two residents and injured 31 while demolishing or damaging 15 homes, officials of the Calnev Pipe Line Co. said that shortly before 3:30 p.m., company technicians flicked a switch in Colton, where the pipeline originates, sending 2,500 barrels of gasoline an hour coursing to Las Vegas.

San Bernardino Mayor W. R. (Bob) Holcomb, who was present at the briefing, said he was reconciled to the reopening of the pipeline.

“I feel that the company has taken every step that is humanly possible to make sure this line, as presently installed, is safe and can be operated safely,” he declared.

Agreement Reported

But the mayor added, and Calnev officials confirmed, that the company and city have agreed that the company will eventually relocate the pipeline away from homes to the other side of Southern Pacific railroad tracks if a proposed federal study indicates that would be in order.


Thirteen days before the May 25 pipeline rupture, a runaway Southern Pacific train jumped the tracks and struck several homes in the same area, killing four people and injuring 11. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the likely possibility that the two incidents are related. Federal inspectors found several large dents in the pipeline after it ruptured.

Shortly before the pipeline was restarted Friday, District Judge Lawrence Lydick, ruling that he did not have jurisdiction in the matter, rejected the latest motion by an attorney for homeowners in the affected area to block the reopening of the line.

The attorney, James H. Davis, said he would appeal Lydick’s order to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Numerous attempts in both state and federal courts in the last two weeks to supersede federal regulators and order an immediate relocation of the pipeline have been turned down on the grounds Lydick stated.

Sympathy Expressed

Before ruling, Lydick told the aggrieved San Bernardino residents in his courtroom in Santa Ana that he could not “help but feel a great deal of sympathy and concern” for them.

But, he added, “I don’t think your problems are helped very much by the special-interest groups and others who seem to think their best interest is to keep you excited.”

To this, one of the residents, Paul Evans, responded in an interview: “My feeling is, we don’t have special-interest groups. We’re acting on our own behalf. . . . We want to see the pipeline moved or us relocated.”

In his order, the judge also turned down the residents’ bid for a court order to force Calnev to continue paying their hotel and food bills. Although the city has told residents of homes still standing that they are free to return to the neighborhood, some, pleading safety, have refused to do so.

In Washington, meanwhile, Richard Beam, director of the Office of Pipeline Safety, said he gave his approval for restarting the gasoline flow because he had determined that Calnev had “complied with the terms of our orders and all of the applicable federal regulations tied into the construction” of 1,000 feet of replacement pipeline.