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Residents start to return to San Bruno burn area

September 12, 2010 |  2:31 pm

As a few search-and-rescue teams with cadaver-sniffing German shepherds and golden retrievers left the San Bruno explosion scene midday Sunday, residents of undamaged homes began to return, and a swarm of utility crews worked to get gas, phone lines and electricity up and running.

Gary Warren, 63, a retiree, was among the first of those let back into his neighborhood and was relieved to find his house undamaged. 

The phones were functioning, and Pacific Gas & Electric employees worked inside his home to turn the gas back on. The electricity was still out, though, a situation he hoped would improve by Sunday night, so he and his wife could sleep in their own bed instead of at their daughter's place, where they'd stayed most of the time since evacuating about 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

"I'm tired of being on a forced vacation," said Warren, formerly a planner at a semiconductors firm.

While they were away from their neighborhoods, evacuees watched the fire on television, in horror. In contrast, Warren was feeling greatly relieved on Sunday.

"I'm done with being scared," he said, standing outside the garage of his two-story home on Estates Drive. "I was scared for a long time that I'd have no home." 

A green tag affixed to a window of the house assured Warren that it was safe to enter.

"We have a lot to be thankful for," he said. But Warren said he had friends who lived near the blast site and didn't know how they fared.

His wife, Nancy Warren, 59, feared the fire would ignite open space behind their backyard and scorch or burn their freshly painted house. "We feel very fortunate," she said, "and we're just very sad about our neighbors."

The family has lived in the house for 26 years but fled abruptly Thursday night after the explosion. They piled into the car along with a neighbor who had no car and his dog.

"I'm glad that it's finally almost over," Gary Warren said.

-- Tony Barboza in San Bruno