SF residents sue contractors, Verizon over Inner Richmond gas line explosion, 3-alarm fire

San Francisco Examiner

February 20, 2019

Two San Francisco residents filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the construction company and contractors involved in a gas line rupture that caused a three-alarm fire earlier this month on Geary Boulevard.

According to the suit, plaintiffs Carina Kouyoumji and Nora Wixom are suing Mastec Services Company Inc.; Mastec Renewables Construction Company Inc.; Kilford Engineering Inc.; and Advanced Fiber Works Inc. Verizon Communications Inc. has also been named as a defendant.

Both plaintiffs live in one of the five buildings badly damaged by the Feb. 6 fire, which ignited after workers installing fiber optic lines near Geary Boulevard and Parker Avenue struck a PG&E gas line.

The lawsuit alleges the explosion was a direct result of the defendants’ “reckless and willful violation of California law of using a backhoe to dig a trench near subsurface installations.”

The California Government Code requires anyone excavating near a subsurface installation, such as a gas line, to use hand tools like a shovel.

The defendants are also accused of being negligent, causing a nuisance and trespassing.

The suit goes on to allege that because of the blaze, the two plaintiffs’ possessions were destroyed and they were left homeless. In
addition, the two suffered mental anguish and were forced to take time off work because of it.

“Ultimately you’ve got contractors doing work near high-pressure distribution gas lines in a high-density area like San Francisco. You would think that every precaution would be taken following state law, including not using heavy machinery near gas lines,” said Ara Jabagchourian, attorney for the plaintiffs. “We’re lucky here nobody got injured.”

Immediately after the gas line was ruptured, flames shot in the air for more than two hours before crews stopped the flow of gas.

Residents in the neighborhood were evacuated. Two buildings were left with major structural damage and three others with extensive water damage, according to police and fire officials.

According to PG&E, the contractors had called 811 to check for any utilities underneath the area before the digging commenced. PG&E then sent crews to the area to make markings.

Days after the incident, the National Transportation Safety Board announced it had started an investigation with help from the FBI into the
cause. The investigation was to include interviews with the contractors and subcontractors involved.

Florida-based Mastec and New York-based Verizon were not immediately available for comment. Kilford Engineering could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages, Jabagchourian said.