Neighborhood meeting to discuss explosion: more questions than answers

Tonight at the Belwood Cabaña in east Los Gatos, there was a community meeting of neighbors with a panel of officials to discuss the explosion at the yard on Westhill and Belblossom on March 5th.  Officials included Sgt Kerry Harris from the Los Gatos Monte Sereno Police Department, two men from P G & E (one named Tamon) and a representative from the county fire department.  Jim and I arrived about 1-2 minutes late so unfortunately I missed some of the names.  (My apologies to the panelists whose names I missed.)

Panel at the explosion meeting in east Los Gatos

About 50 neighbors gathered at 7:30pm to this not-so-well publicized event (it was mentioned on this Belwood blog, the Nextdoor site and the Facebook group but did not make the local papers or even the edition of The Bellringer which was delivered to residents today).  Those of us who attended generally expected to learn what exactly had happened to cause the explosion.  Instead, we learned that P G and E has determined that it was not caused by natural gas (their arena) and therefore their investigation is closed as they are not the right entity to investigate other causes. The Town of Los Gatos appears to have done exactly nothing beyond the original police report (and of course, sending Sgt Harris over tonight, which was very much appreciated).

So what caused the explosion that seriously injured the gardener and caused the boom to be heard and felt up to a quarter of a mile or more away?  We still don’t know. Who’s doing an ongoing investigation to find out what caused it? As of tonight, no one.

Cabana meeting on the explosion of unknown origens in east Los Gatos

This was not a happy revelation that as of now, no one is really investigating anything. The crowd was clearly displeased and uneasy with what feels like a ticking time bomb.  If we don’t know what caused this explosion, how can we possibly prevent another?  This was the reasoning of many of the calm, but concerned, voices.

Most felt that the power company had not done nearly enough to check on safety issues.  With a little prodding by the public, it was learned that the company could do more….and it sounds like Tamon, the pubic advocate within P G & E, will request that further testing take place.  It isn’t guaranteed to happen, but it would be a help.

Neighbors listen to questions and commentary on the explosion at Westhill and Belblossom on March 5, 2012

There was some news, though.  We did hear, for the first time, that when the explosion happened, there was a fireball “the size of two car lengths” followed by smoke of the same size. It seems to have dissipated rapidly.

We stayed for an hour – there were lots of questions, some more like long commentaries.  A few people expressed frustration and more than one appeared to simply vent.  It was mostly civil but had some contentious moments. The presence of both police and fire representatives was helpful, I think, to explain how each department got involved and what their roles were.  That was a plus. And while Tamon seemed caring and adept at working with the pubic, his counterpart didn’t share that talent and his repeated, terse replies to others’ comments of  “that’s not true” didn’t do much to warm up the community to him, or to the company, for that matter. (But thank you, Tamon – you did a good job under pressure.)

Crowd listens to a question about the Los Gatos explosion

So was turpentine to blame, as initially thought? Sounds like it wasn’t – but they don’t know.  PG & E doesn’t know, the fire department doesn’t know, the police department doesn’t know.

But the Belwood, Belgatos, and Surmont neighbors do know that this isn’t over yet.  This is not a “closed case”.  We deserve better.  All of Los Gatos does.

14 Responses to Neighborhood meeting to discuss explosion: more questions than answers

  • Tani Francoeur says:

    Thank you Mary for posting this. I hadn’t heard of any meeting last evening and appreciate the update. Are there any next steps other than Tamon’s request that further testing take place? Thanks again!

    • Tani that’s the only “next step” I heard about, but I did leave after an hour so it’s possible that something was decided after Jim and I left. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment, I really appreciate it.

  • edwin Swartz says:

    Thank you for your wonderful article.

    Ed Swartz

    • Edwin thank YOU for letting me know about the meeting. I was really surprised that it wasn’t in the Bellringer or in the local news. I suspect a lot of neighbors didn’t know about the meeting, but it was a big help that you told me so that I could help spread the word.

  • Simon Strazhgorodskiy says:

    The meeting revealed that there is a breach in the system to investigate these kind of events.

    • Simon that’s certainly true. What jurisdiction does it fall under? I guess most of us thought PG & E would do it but it’s true that some of it is out of their scope. I had expected the fire department to do more, but it sounds like they put up the “danger” tape and then didn’t do much beyond what happened the day of the incident.

  • Don Tornincasa says:

    Thank you Mary for posting this. I was not aware of the situation.

    • Hi Don,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. It has gotten virtually no press, surprisingly. I was out walking my dog when it happened and the explosion was so loud that I couldn’t even imagine what it was – much worse than when a transformer blows. The neighbors are all very concerned about something like the Cupertino fire from the pinhole leaks in the PG & E gas line or worse, what happened with the San Bruno fire. Doesn’t seem to be anything of that magnitude, but as long as it’s undiagnosed, it remains scary.

      Hope all’s well with you….

      Mary

  • Dick Davison says:

    Mary: Thank you for covering the meeting on your blog…great job. Here’s my take of what I think likely happened & what I think we should push for going forward.

    1. While PG&E is easy to dis-trust & dis-like, (Load knows there’s sufficient cause), I don’t think this had anything to do with a gas leak from their service. Had that been the case, the fire would have continued unabated until the gas supply was shut off. While some petroleum-based hydrocarbons of the type found in turpentine, paint thinner, etc. were found in the soil samples, I don’t find that unusual in our urban/do it yourself community & The “Panel of Experts” stated they they ruled this out as being the culprit.

    By my lights, that leaves only one likely cause…methane gas that had accumulated in a sub-soil pocket, possibly over some extended period of time. With sufficient compression, when egnited it could easily have had the concussive force and fireball that was experienced. Also, once consumed, there would be no more gas to support the fire & it would self-extengiush. I think a likely suspect source would be a leak in the sewer line coming from the house.

    2. Going forward, I think we should push for the Town of Los Gatos &/or the County to take leadership position in getting closurer on this. Except for the initial reactive performance of the Town & County 1st responders, (which was super, in my view) Both levels of local government have been remiss by their lack of proactivity. They did not, (still haven’t) take any action to keep concerned homeowners informed, nor did they demonstrate any initiative in comissioning a professional forensic investigation sufficient to establish probable cause & remedial recommendation. To use your words, “We deserve better” & we should demand no less.

    • Hi Dick,

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply – I appreciate it. I really don’t know the scope of possible reasons, but methane was the one I was most suspecting too, for the same reasons which you state. But wouldn’t it have shown up in that report that was brought to last night’s meeting? I didn’t read it but my impression from the discussion is that it was a non issue.

      Sorry for the delay in approving your comments – due to spam issues I have to moderate comments so that I don’t have bots filling my pages with ads about sports apparel or designer bags etc. I just happened to be away from the computer for awhile….

      Thanks again!

      Mary

      • Dick Davison says:

        Regarding your question w/respect to ‘no trace of methane being found’; I believe all the methane burned in the explosion/fire, hence, no residual evidence. BTW. The Fire Dept guy said that the area where the gardner was trimming had sheet plastic on the ground, (for weed control). This would have made an excellent canopy to help the methane accumulate instead of perculating out to the atmosphere.

        Dick
        P) 402-5903
        E) D2atHOME@aol.com

  • Erin Bane says:

    “The Gardener” has been my gardener for 7 years and is a very good person, who must not be forgotten in all this. He and his wife just had a baby 2 months ago. That baby may be the ONLY reason he is still alive. The City and or homeowner need to find the cause so this never happens again. HE deserves to know, as well as the neighbors. He came very close to death, in fact it is a miracle that he IS alive.

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