"SAN BRUNO, Calif. (AP) — First, the pipeline exploded. Then the flames, like a blowtorch, set the neighborhood overlooking San Francisco Bay ablaze.
Flaming chunks of asphalt hurled into the air from the blast blew through the roof at Bill Magoolaghan's house. As he watched from a nearby hillside in San Bruno, one question came to his mind: Why can't someone stop the tower of fire?
"The gas flames were still shooting 300 feet into the air," he recalled thinking, 40 minutes after the Sept. 9 explosion.
One reason is that the line was not equipped with remotely operated or automatic shut-off valves that would have halted the gas within minutes of the accident — devices that federal safety officials have recommended to industry and regulators for decades.
An Associated Press investigation found that the utility, Pacific Gas & Electric Co., agreed as far back as 1997 that remotely operated valves did a better job of protecting public safety than manual ones. But it opted against using them widely across its network of high-pressure transmission lines, saying they weren't necessary or required. "
Matthew Brown and Garance Burke report for the Associated Press February 5, 2011.