Fiery explosion injures woman, shatters store windows

By Paul Elias

11:00 a.m. August 19, 2005

SAN FRANCISCO – A fiery explosion from an underground utility chamber in the downtown shopping district Friday burned a woman and shattered windows at a Ralph Lauren clothing store, authorities said.

Firefighters and police evacuated several blocks around the store in the Crocker Galleria area, said fire spokesman Peter Howes.

A crew from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was not immediately able to determine the cause of the blast in its electrical vault because a bomb squad was investigating, said company spokesman Paul Moreno. He said there was no indication of a gas leak.

Tom Demartini, a construction worker who was sitting in his truck outside the store in the heart of the city, said he heard the explosion and saw the sidewalk rise six or seven inches.

"It sounded like a big poof, then there was a lot of smoke," Demartini said. "One woman looked like she was badly burned."

Scores of police officers and firefighters closed off the area and shut down several blocks as evacuated office workers milled about in the aftermath. The fire was quickly extinguished.

Workers in a nearby office building said the blast shook their buildings and they thought it was an earthquake. One woman said the elevator in her building stopped.