An underground gas line near the driveway of a Berkeley home was punctured by a worker doing excavation today, causing a fire that burned the front of the home and a van parked outside, Berkeley fire officials said.
The fire was reported at 1710 Martin Luther King Jr. Way at 2:28 p.m.
It was initially reported as a car fire, but when Berkeley police arrived they realized the blaze was threatening the home and firefighters enacted a full one-alarm response, acting Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb said.
Flames were spreading to the eaves along the home's roof line, and had engulfed the van's rear compartment, he said.
Crews used a hose line to contain the flames and stripped off a 15- to 20-foot section of the eaves to prevent the fire from spreading. No fire got inside the house, which is home to eight or nine people, Webb said.
Firefighters then turned their attention to the burning van, using hose lines to contain the fire.
Webb said the gas pipeline was left burning because it was safer to allow the gas to burn than risk having it escape into nearby houses and vehicles where it could create an explosion risk.
PG&E was called to the scene and arrived at 2:56 p.m. but had difficulty accessing the line that had been punctured. Crews dug a hole to reach the line and finally shut off the flow of gas and stopped the fire at 3:58 p.m., Webb said.
PG&E spokesman Jason King said the homeowner had hired a day laborer to do sewer work on the property but the worker did not call PG&E to find out where the underground gas lines were before digging.
The contractor ended up hitting the line with a pick, puncturing it and igniting the gas, possibly through sparks created by striking metal, King said. King said it is important that anyone doing any kind of underground work call 811 to check on the location of PG&E gas lines to avoid accidents that could risk lives and property.