Two women injured in a gas line explosion in southwest Bakersfield Friday were listed in fair condition Monday, and a community fundraising campaign for them and their family had raised $19,230 by early evening.

Other than that, not a lot of new detail about the disaster and its repercussions had emerged three days after the blast.

The biggest question left unanswered was the identity of the Big N Deep Agricultural Development employee who touched off the explosion by striking a high pressure Pacific Gas & Electric Co. gas transmission line while operating farming equipment.

That typically comes from the Kern County coroner’s office after the notification of family, but the office did not release the name. The owner of the ag company did not return calls Monday.

And all that the agency leading the investigation had to say was that it was investigating.

“The CPUC is concluding the field portion of our investigation and plans to release a report with our findings as soon as it is complete,” Christopher Chow, spokesman for the California Public Utilities Commission, said in an email. “The investigation includes determining the timing of the automatic shut-off valves.”

That last line refers to a two-phase shutdown PG&E said was completed on the line after Friday’s explosion.

PG&E spokeswoman Katie Allen said Monday that an automatic shutoff took place immediately after the utility noticed a drop in pressure on the line at around 3:34 p.m. Friday. That shutoff closed down a large section of the pipeline to contain the incident.

She said PG&E crews dispatched to the scene also completed a manual shutdown of a smaller section of the pipeline close to the site of the explosion. Those shutdowns took place at 4:13 p.m. and 4:14 p.m. Friday.

The explosion, flames from which could be seen from downtown Bakersfield 10 miles away, occurred on farmland at the corner of Houghton and Wible roads.

The equipment operator appeared to be chiseling the land for the planting of trees, said Bob Sandrini, who lives across the street. 

When the pipeline exploded, he saw a flat line of fire shoot south from the property, across the street and into more farmland. The front end of a car, parked at Wible and Houghton roads and apparently empty, melted, Sandrini said.

The concussion was so big, he said, it blew open the entrances to his attic. A tall pine tree bent over then bounced back up again.

“It shook the house like crazy,” Sandrini said. “Not like an earthquake, but like a big bang.”

The heat was intense, too, he said: “I’m a quarter mile away and it was like it was going to burn you.”

Larry Fachin, who lives about two miles away, said he did think it was an earthquake at first “but the rumble was longer than with an earthquake.”

He went outside and saw huge flames shooting into the sky. 

The explosion blew up the nearby home of Robert Ruckman, a teacher at Arvin High, and his family. His wife, Gloria, newborn baby, and mother-in-law, Amalia Leal, were home. The women suffered second- and third-degree burns but the baby was reportedly unharmed.

Gloria Ruckman and Leal were in fair condition in the burn unit at San Joaquin Community Hospital Monday, spokeswoman Megan Simpson said. Privacy laws precluded her from revealing more.

Among those who drove by the scene of the explosion Monday were Reba and Hayden Tidwell, who live a couple miles away and happen to know Leal.

Leal works for the Arvin Family Resource Center, part of the Arvin Union School District, and did some interpreting work in Reba Tidwell’s real estate office.

“She’s a very nice, hardworking lady. A loving family person,” Tidwell said. “She’s dedicated to her work with the school and its families.”

— James Burger contributed to this report.


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