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Exploding oxygen canisters prompt evacuation in O.C.

July 13, 2009 |  8:31 pm

Ten homes in Huntington Beach were evacuated Monday when discarded oxygen canisters began exploding outside an elementary school. No one was injured, but one canister flew over houses and landed on a nearby street, Deputy Fire Marshal Jeff Lopez said.

According to Lopez, the incident began about 2:40 p.m. when a trash pickup truck operated by Rainbow Disposal Co. was pulling up to the Ralph E. Hawes Elementary School on Yellowstone Drive in Huntington Beach. The driver smelled smoke and heard an explosion, prompting him to dump his trash load in the school's parking lot. Lopez said he does not believe summer school was in session at the time.

Eventually, three more oxygen canisters exploded. Emergency crews arrived from the Huntington Beach fire and police departments, as well as the Orange County Sheriff's Department's bomb squad. They ordered the evacuation of 10 nearby homes and began looking through the debris for any more canisters. Eventually, one unexploded canister was found, and the bomb squad detonated it, Lopez said.

He said the canisters apparently were taken from outside the home of a Huntington Beach man who uses them for medical reasons. “It's assumed that somebody came and swiped them from the doorstep," Lopez said, "but nothing’s confirmed there.”

Once crews determined that there were no more unexploded canisters, the evacuation order was lifted about 7:40 p.m.

Lopez said the cause of the explosions was under investigation, but it appeared likely that something else in the truck began burning, and the heat set off the pressurized canisters.

-- Mitchell Landsberg