Los Angeles, CA Gasoline Explosion, June 1976



Los Angels, Calif. -- The fiery explosion of thousands of gallons of gasoline from an underground pipeline killed two persons, injuted 26 others, several critically, and destroyed a row of businesses along a busy West Los Angeles street Wednesday.
A wall of flames and black smoke enveloped stores and passing cars along Venice Boulevard after street construction crews pierced a Standard Oil Co. gasoline pipeline running under the street.
One witness reported seeing female employes of a drapery firm run screaming into the street, many with their clothes and hair on fire.
Fire investigators sifted through the charred rubble searching for additional bodies, Wednesday afternoon. The blast, which destroyed the north side of the 9500 block of the street is estimated to have caused more than $1 million damage, fire officials said.
"I was working over there and I saw an explosion. I saw these people burning," said Jess Mendoza, a worker at a nearby plywood factory, in tears as he described the inferno.
"They screamed 'Help me. I can't see!' .. It was an awful feeling -- all those people. Their eyes and their heads were burned. You could smell the flesh and see the skin peeling."
More than 16,000 gallons of low-lead gasoline poured from the eight-inch pipeline, running between Standard's El Segundo refinery and its Van Nuys distribution terminal, before an automatic alarm system was activated.
Federal local and state agencies began investigating the explosion immediately.
Milton Stark, information officer for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), said his agency planned a full investigation. The construction project was a $3.9 million street-widening project sponsored by Caltrans. Griffith Co. of Los Angeles was supplying the personnel and equipment for the job. Stark said, with Caltrans personnel inspecting and overseeing the work.
Bill Wofford, spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department, said he understood a construction map for the project showed a pipeline under Venice Boulevard, which is state highway 187.
"There was no reason for them not to know there was a pipeline there," Wofford said.
Fifteen persons were in three Los Angeles area hospitals, eight in critical condition, receiving treatment for burns and other injuries suffered in the blast.
The charred remains of six cars lined the street, with at least one person burned to death inside the vehicles.

Star-News Pasadena California 1976-06-17

Listing of Casualties:
CLARA DROWNE, 53, of Phoenix, who died Wednesday night.
MAE WOOD, 71, CLARA'S sister, who died yesterday morning.
ELIZABETH AVILA, 70, who died at the scene.
CORA LINDLOFF, 92, who died of a heart attack suffered as she fled the flames.