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Four confirmed dead by coroner in San Bruno explosion

September 10, 2010 |  7:35 am

Four people are confirmed dead in the massive explosion and subsequent fire that rocked San Bruno, the San Mateo County coroner’s office said Friday morning.

San Bruno Fire Department Capt. Charlie Barringer said earlier Friday that six were dead, but the coroner's office has only confirmed four so far.

The power was still out in the Claremont Drive neighborhood Friday morning, and firefighters pointed their hoses at the smoldering remains of a half-dozen homes. Spot fires were still burning in yards near the charred remains of station wagons, the air thick and acrid.

Many houses remained eerily untouched, SUVs still parked in the driveways, solar-powered garden lights burning, newspapers wrapped in plastic still lying where they were tossed on the grass Thursday morning.

Barringer was one of three firefighters on Engine 52, the first to respond to the explosion.

“I thought a 747 had landed on us,” he said. “It shook our station right to its foundation.”

Within a minute, he had sounded a four-alarm fire, he said. Soon after, he said, firefighters discovered a gas line had exploded, destroying not only homes but the grid of water mains that supplied the local fire hydrants. His crew had no water to fight the fires.

“We were overwhelmed. We had multiple neighborhoods on fire,” he said.

Barringer said the neighborhood has not had problems with gas leaks in recent years. A PG&E crew of several men with hard hats, shovels, an earth mover and two trucks was at the corner of Claremont and Sneath Lane as he spoke, digging through the concrete, but they referred questions to a spokesman.

Neighbors standing across the street said a gas line runs nearby, and a slight scent of gas was in the air Friday morning. Barringer said that when his engine first responded to the explosion, the crew strung together hoses to pump water from two to three miles away.

By 2 a.m., they were still using the hoses. Police and coroner’s investigators roamed the darkness with flashlights, snapping photographs, setting up roadblocks with flares and saying the area was considered a crime scene.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in San Bruno and Richard Winton in Los Angeles