1 dead, 5 hurt in California home explosion

/ Source: The Associated Press

An explosion that authorities believe was caused by a natural gas leak leveled a home in a Sacramento suburb on Wednesday, killing one person and injuring five others.

Charred remnants were all that remained of the house, which sat at the end of a cul-de-sac beside a busy highway. Debris littered the street. Homes on either side of the leveled one also were damaged.

"One house is completely destroyed, just devastated. Both the other ones have major, major damage," Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District spokesman Christian Pebbles said.

The explosion sent six people to the hospital, Pebbles said.

Three went to the University of California, Davis medical complex in Sacramento in critical condition, hospital spokeswoman Phyllis Brown said. One of them, Wilbert Paana, who was in his early 70s and suffered a severe abdominal injury, later died, Brown said.

She identified the other two as Kim Dickson, in her mid-40s, and 17-year-old Sunny Dickson, who was transferred to nearby Shriners Hospital for Children. Brown said both suffered burns.

Officials could not immediately say where the Dicksons and Paana were when the home exploded.

Two others, including a utility worker, were hospitalized elsewhere with lesser injuries. A firefighter was also treated for an undetermined injury, Pebbles said.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. crews had been called to the street earlier in the day after someone reported smelling gas and were on scene when the blast occurred. Officials had issued voluntary evacuations for about 40 nearby homes.

The injured utility worker was standing in the street at the time of the explosion and was hospitalized with slight burns to the hand and cuts to the head, PG&E spokesman Brian Swanson said.

"Once the scene is safe, we'll look into what happened," he said.

'Big boom'
Swanson said the utility had shut off gas service in the area immediately surrounding the leveled house.

John Turner, who lives in a duplex about two blocks from the leveled home, said he heard "a big boom" shortly after 1:30 p.m.

"It sounded like something had fallen on my roof," he said. "I saw flames about as high as the house next door ... the smoke was billowing from that area."

Turner, 30, said he did not smell anything but saw two PG&E trucks near the explosion site when he walked out of his house.

Joe Helton, 33, said he was one of the first to arrive at the scene and saw a resident of the destroyed house standing in the street.

"I asked her if there was anybody else in the house and she said her dad was in the house. So I ran to where the garage was, but it was pretty much smoke and fire in there," he said.

Helton said he helped two next-door neighbors exit their house and sat the injured PG&E worker down in a chair. He and others then discovered a man buried under wood shingles and debris about 10 feet from the sidewalk.

"We started pulling stuff away. You couldn't even tell he was there; the stuff was covering him," Helton said.

The cul-de-sac backs up to Highway 50, a major route between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe that had heavy Christmas Eve traffic. Rancho Cordova is about 10 miles east of the state capital.