San Bruno blast victims describe harrowing fire at CPUC hearing 

Chris Torres paused to hold back tears as he described how his two sisters’ hair and flesh melted away as they ran from their house, which had exploded into a fireball in San Bruno last September.

One sister’s fingers no longer respond, said Torres, who testified Tuesday in San Bruno at the first of three public hearings by the California Public Utilities Commission to solicit feedback about how they might better regulate pipeline safety.

The other sister is just learning to stand again. They all are still grieving their mother, who “was cremated alive in the explosion,” Torres said. Also lost in the fire were his father’s medals from two wars and countless other precious items.

Given this tremendous loss, Torres said he is sickened by the idea that PG&E might receive ratepayer dollars to fix its flawed pipeline system.

“I would like to know, why would they get more money to do what they were always supposed to do? That needs to be answered,” he said.

Tuesday’s hearing came about seven months after a ruptured natural-gas pipeline created an inferno that took the lives of Torres’ mother and seven other San Bruno residents.

The meeting, held at the San Bruno Senior Center, was so crowded that people had to park a half-mile away and a van was used to shuttle them to the building.

Draft rules under consideration by the commission include one that would require PG&E to reduce pressure in some pre-1970 lines in populated areas, automatic shut-off valves, and better inspection techniques and record keeping.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, wrote to the commission offering 14 suggestions, including that the CPUC establish a statewide database of pipelines removed from service and that if an operator has never rigorously tested a line, the agency should require them to reduce pressure in it by 20 percent.

South San Francisco resident Pradeep Gupta lamented that it took the tragedy to focus the CPUC’s attention on this issue. He said he was “appalled” that PG&E, by its own admission, knows so little about the history or status of its pipelines.

“Are there miles and miles of these pipelines in the ground today?” he said.

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Katie Worth

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