Los Angeles, CA Gas Explosion, Mar 1985


Los Angeles (AP) -- A mysterious gas possibly produced by abandoned oil wells triggered an explosion that ripped through a clothing store, injuring 21 people, shattering windows and sending flames leaping through sidewalk cracks, officials said.
Two of the injured were reported in critical condition.
In addition, fire department spokesman Ed Reed said at least one employee at the shattered Ross Dress-for-Less store was unaccounted for after the 5 p.m. blast Sunday.
"There's a possibility there are more victims in there," Reed said.
Gas seeping through the ground fueled flames that danced several inches high along the sidewalks on two sides of the demolished building, sometimes leaping several feet into the air through cracks and fissures.
Firefighters shut off mains that could possibly be fueling the fires and concern grew that an underground pocket of gas or abandoned well was the source.
Hundreds of people in a one-block area surrounding the store were evacuated as officials feared more explosions.
"There was debris a mile in the air, it seemed," said Kim Canada, who works at Mordigan Nursery Inc., across the street from Ross.
The explosion blew the front off the Ross store, shattered windows up to a block away and cracked the pavement around the store.
Jim Radcliffe, division manager for Southern California Gas Co., said: "What we have found just recently in our preliminary lab reports is that it is not our gas," but it wasn't precisely known what kind of gas it was.
"The way it's burning, it appears to be a methane-based gas," he said.
Abandoned oil wells in the area may have produced it, he said.
"We have in our experience that those wells have leaked (in the past)," he said.
Fumes were also detected in a K-mart store across the street, and fire officials vented both stores with spark-free blowers, Reed said.
Gas company service representative John Amos said he went into the basement of the K-mart and found "about two inches of water in some areas of the basement and gas is seeping up through the water."
He said the gas lacks the odor which the gas company puts into its gas but instead had a "sewer type odor."
More than 100 firefighters backed by 16 engines battled the flames, fire department spokesman Jim Wells said.
Six ambulances transported 14 of the victims to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Brotman Memorial Hospital, Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital and UCLA Medical Center and there were seven walk-ins with lesser injuries, Wells said.
DIANA LOPEZ, 25, was in critical condition at Brotman with first-second and third-degree burns and MICHAEL ARMSTRONG, 26, suffered burns over 30 percent of his body and was also in critical condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Most other victims were treated for minor injuries and released, hospital officials said.

Casa Grande Dispatch Arizona 1985-03-25