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3 apparent gas explosions in San Bernardino mountain homes worry local residents

Police lights. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Joe Weaver woke up early Thursday morning to someone yelling outside his Lake Arrowhead home.

Around, a neighbor noticed a strong smell of natural gas surrounding their property off Highway 173 near Kuffel Canyon Road, Weaver said. So Weaver and wife Dana promptly started digging to reach their gas meter buried under 15 feet of snow. They weren’t successful, but with the help of a friend, the gas meter was eventually turned off.

That same morning, two homes went up in flames nearby due to what appeared to be gas-leak explosions, local fire authorities said. A day before, another apparent gas explosion occurred, as did a structure fire.

Still, on Thursday evening, the odor persists — and the Weavers said they haven’t been aided by the San Bernardino County Fire Department or SoCal Gas.

“If somebody comes by with a cigarette or something, these houses are going to go up (in flames),” Joe Weaver said.

Other neighborhoods near Grizzly, Rainer, and Thunderbird roads also reported gas odors Thursday.

“It’s dire up here. We are just waiting for people to die up here,” Joe Weaver said.  “We can’t rely on the federal government, the state government, or the county. It’s just the residents up here are banding together to help each other out.”

Ashley Garcia said she also smelled the gas driving down Highway 173 to the grocery store during a brief excursion from her snowed-in Lake Arrowhead residence.

San Bernardino County Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike McClintock said the four fires were “unusual.” He said the blazes were under investigation but likely tied to the severe storm, adding that gas lines could be damaged by the fallen power lines, trees, and other damage that’s come with the nearly 10 feet of snow dumped on the area in recent days.

McClintock said San Bernardino County Fire was working with Southern California Gas to investigate leaks.

SoCal Gas spokesperson Brian Haas said the utility received calls from residents in the San Bernardino Mountains reporting the natural gas odor and was working to reach out to them. He added that personnel will be on the ground, but have had difficulties accessing the communities because of road conditions.

“The biggest thing if you do have a gas leak (is) to call 911,” McClintock said. “If you have a suspected gas leak inside your home (and) you’re able to access the meter, shut (it) off.”

A statement also provided by Haas said residents should “ensure that gas appliance intake and exhaust vents are clear of obstructions.”

McClintock added that fire authorities were working on educational materials to be distributed to the public about gas leaks.

But Thatiana Viana-Stine, another Lake Arrowhead resident, said the outreach has been far too slow.

Viana-Stine, who has been snowed at her home for more than a week, said she called the fire department multiple times asking for guidance on gas leaks and felt there was no clear guidance from authorities.

In the meantime, she said she took matters into her own hands and managed to clear her home’s ventilation to prevent a blaze.

“I follow the (San Bernardino) County Fire Department, and I keep seeing these tweets about houses exploding here. They’re not communicating to us,” Viana-Stine said.  “The houses are exploding, like, what do we do? How can we prepare a house? How can we (prepare) so that we’re not the next house?”


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