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California gas pipeline explosion, fire injure up to 15 people

A construction crew accidentally ruptured a natural gas transmission line on Friday in Fresno, California, sparking an explosion and fire that injured up to 15 people, at least one of them critically, a fire department spokesman said.

California gas pipeline explosion, fire injure up to 15 people
California gas pipeline explosion, fire injure up to 15 people

The 12-inch (30-cm) pipeline, belonging to Pacific Gas & Electric Corp, was struck by a backhoe near state Highway 99, unleashing a fireball that injured members of the construction team and a prison inmate crew in the vicinity, spokesman Peter Martinez said.

The accident prompted closure of the highway in both directions, along with an adjacent railroad line, Martinez said. Rail traffic was halted to allow a bridge that carries the tracks over a river to be inspected for possible damage, he said.

One worker was flown by helicopter to a hospital in critical condition, and 13 or 14 other people, some of them members of the inmate crew, were taken to hospitals for evaluation and treatment of various injuries, according to Martinez. He said the nature and extent of those additional injuries was not immediately known.

There were no immediate reports of fatalities, he added.

The pipeline was ruptured at about 2:30 p.m., and it was expected to take PG&E until 6:30 p.m. to shut off the flow of gas from it, he said.

The accident occurred in Fresno, about 188 miles (300 km) southeast of San Francisco, in an area of town near a law enforcement gun range.

A PG&E representative said the utility was investigating the incident.