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Gas line explosion in San Francisco ignites buildings

Pacific Gas and Electric workers toil as San Francisco firefighters battle a fire in San Francisco, on Feb. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A gas explosion in a San Francisco neighborhood shot flames into the air Wednesday and was burning five buildings as utility crews scrambled to shut off the flow of gas more than two hours after the blaze began.

Private construction workers cut a natural gas line, San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White said. Authorities initially said five of them were missing, but the entire construction crew was found safe, and no other injuries were reported.

Hayes-White said several buildings in the area were evacuated, including a medical clinic and several apartment buildings.

"It's pretty dramatic, but we have pretty good handle on it," she said.

Firefighters worked to keep the fire from spreading while Pacific Gas & Electric crews tried to shut off the natural gas line.

"It's complicated," Hayes-White said of stopping the flow of gas through the damaged pipe, though she later acknowledged that "as a fire chief and a resident, yes, I would have liked to see it mitigated."

PG&E spokesman Paul Doherty said the utility was working as quickly as possible to shut off the gas.

The fire began around 1:20 p.m., apparently by crews working on fiber-optic wires, Hayes-White said.

Joseph Feusi lives four blocks away and said he was awoken by what sounded like a jet engine.

Feusi, who works nights and sleeps in the afternoon, said he could see the towering flames from his home.

"I think the eight guys are really lucky they didn't get blown to bits," he said.

Neighbor Irwin Silver, who lives down the street from the restaurant where crews were working, told KTVU he heard "a big explosion."

"We went outside and you could see the workers from the restaurant running down our block," he said. "It's scary. I walked past the trench where the guys are working. I walked my pet earlier today."

Doherty, the PG&E spokesman, stressed that the workers who cut the gas line are not affiliated with utility, which is under heightened scrutiny over its natural gas pipelines.

A PG&E pipeline exploded under a neighborhood south of San Francisco in 2010, killing eight people and wiping out a neighborhood in suburban San Bruno.

A U.S. judge fined the nation's largest utility $3 million for a conviction on six felony charges of failing to properly maintain the pipeline. California regulators also fined PG&E $1.6 billion and the utility remains under a federal judge's watch in that case.

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