Flames shot into the air in the Alta Vista neighborhood Monday morning after the driver of a road grinder hit a 3-inch natural gas line, causing the vehicle to catch on fire and leading to the evacuation of several nearby homes.
The driver escaped uninjured in the 8:19 a.m. incident at the corner of Alta Vista and Monte Vista drives, said Bakersfield Fire Department Battalion Chief Anthony Galagaza. The fire was out at 11:13 a.m.
The road grinder, estimated to be worth $500,000 to $750,000, was destroyed. Possible damage to the area in front of a home was being evaluated.
The residents of seven houses were evacuated, Galagaza said. Three hundred people were impacted by an electrical outage and 13 people were without natural gas, PG&E spokeswoman Katie Harlan Allen said.
Crews had restored power by 11:45 a.m., Allen said.
The PG&E gas line was seven inches deep, Galagaza said, and Allen said a 3-inch steel main distribution line was hit. She said crews dug on both sides of the damaged line to cap it off.
Galagaza said it’s difficult to know the exact depth of utility lines in older neighborhoods because with shifting earth, the lines may not be as deep as they once were.
The worker who struck the line was in the area to rip up asphalt for repaving.
Local resident Ted Cozby was standing by shortly after 11 a.m. watching as firefighters finished dousing the smoking grinder.
He said he was without power and planned to sit outside and wait until it was turned back on.
The explosion provided quite the sight, he said.
“They had some big ol’ flames here shooting about 50 feet in the air or so,” Cozby said.
Gina Burns could feel the heat of the flame from her residence a few hundred feet away. She was about to start mowing her lawn when she heard explosions, quickly followed by the yelling of the men on the grinder as they ran from the vehicle.
“I looked around this rose bush and saw that thing was engulfed,” she said of the grinder.
Burns said a resident of the home by where the grinder caught fire came outside holding a dog and repeatedly yelling “Fire!” That resident and others with homes near the burning vehicle left the area while firefighters battled the blaze.
Burns said her biggest concern was the possibility of falling debris caused by more explosions.
Allen said late Monday afternoon that damage estimates to the line were unknown, as was how long it would take to complete repairs. She said it’s a good time to remind people that April is Safe Digging Month and that anyone planning on digging should call 811 beforehand for the location of underground lines, pipes and cables.