Los Angeles, CA Clothing Store Blast, 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 concers 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.

Winchester Star Virginia 1985-03-25