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California

Fatal gas line explosion in Murrieta a warning for home contractors

House Explosion
A firefighter and civilians train hoses on a burning home after a gas line explosion destroyed the house in Murrieta, Calif.
(Andrew Foulk / Associated Press)

Southern California Gas Co. said a huge explosion Monday at a house in Murrieta, Calif., that left a utility worker dead and 15 others injured underscores the dangers of home improvements and construction without following gas safety rules.

Cedric Williams, the company’s vice president of construction, said a preliminary investigation shows that a contractor at the house did not call the utility’s designated 811 line so that workers could come mark the gas lines, as required by law. There is no record of the contractor filing a ticket with the company, he said.

“No matter what you’re doing, if you’re digging, please call 811,” Williams said at a news briefing. “Not calling 811 makes it dangerous for everyone.” 811 is a call center that notifies the appropriate utility company to mark buried lines before digging begins. At a press conference Tuesday, officials stressed that under California law, homeowners, contractors and businesses are required to make that call before starting a digging project.

Southern California Gas Co. responded to reports of a natural gas line that was damaged during work on the home Monday morning. The explosion occurred at 12:10 p.m., after utility crews had arrived. The company said an 11-year employee was killed and another was taken to a hospital. The dead employee was identified as Wade Kilpatrick, 31 – a lead construction technician who started in 2008 as a meter reader. He is survived by his mother, a sister and six brothers, including one who is also an employee at the company.

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Three Murrieta firefighters were among the 15 injured, according to Murrieta Fire and Rescue Deputy Chief David Lantzer. The others who were hurt were all civilians, he said. Officials announced Tuesday that the firefighters have been released from the hospital, as has the other Southern California Gas Co. worker who was injured. The body of the Kilpatrick was recovered.

Four homes have been red-tagged, indicating that it is unsafe to go inside. One has been yellow-tagged, and several houses are covered in broken glass and have lost power.

Officials are continuing to investigate the explosion, assessing the extent of the damage and working on a plan to return residents to their homes. Everyone is accounted for, and six residents are being housed overnight at a care facility set up at Vista Murrieta High School.

Southern California Gas, the primary gas provider for Southern California, stopped the flow of gas to the property at 1 p.m.

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Following the blast, rattled residents posted reactions on Twitter, saying it shook homes in the area.

One video showed smoke covering a neighborhood on Clinton Keith Road as firefighters tried to extinguish cascading flames that appeared to engulf a corner home. At least three firetrucks are seen outside the house in the video.

Resident Kevin McKinney, 63, told the Riverside Press-Enterprise he found a man lying on the street next to the blast site.

“Just a huge, huge explosion and then I heard screams and went outside,” he told the paper.


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