Walnut Creek / Investigators suspect boiler was at fault

Explosion Rips Through Wells Fargo in Walnut Creek / Investigators suspect boiler was at fault

Charlie Goodyear, Chronicle Staff Writer
Published 4:00 am, Wednesday, December 1, 1999
Note:  Darion Sable –Former Marine Suicide leaves Wells Fargo and jumps from Bay Bridge
A thunderous blast ripped through a Wells Fargo Bank branch in downtown Walnut Creek yesterday, injuring an employee and a pedestrian struck by flying debris. Authorities termed it an accident.
Fire investigators were focusing on a second-floor boiler as the likely cause of the blast. Authorities and bank employees said the boiler had been repaired about an hour before the explosion.

"It was a big boom," said bank manager Nancy Methlie as she stood with a group of Wells Fargo employees not far from the intersection of Bonanza and North Main streets where the bank is located. "It was like you could feel it everywhere in the building."

The explosion occurred at 3:51 p.m., blowing out windows around the building and throwing a large metal duct grille across Bonanza Street where it struck a man. He was taken to Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Walnut Creek with injuries to his shoulder and knee.

A bank employee who was in a room adjacent to the boiler at the time of the blast was also taken to the hospital for symptoms of shock. But officials described both victims' injuries as minor.
Bank patron Alex Utal said the explosion knocked panels off the walls inside the bank. "I thought someone had thrown something against the building," he said.

Shannon Rogers, an employee at Athletic Outpost across from the bank, felt the explosion shake the building while she was working.

"It reeked of gas," she said. "A big metal piece flew off and hit the piano store across the street."
Other bank employees said the building quickly filled with heavy steam or smoke but officials said there was no fire inside following the blast.

Damage was heaviest on the second floor where the suspect boiler was located.

''Earlier in the day, repairs were being made to the boiler," said Contra Costa Fire Capt. Larry Thude. "The repair crew left around 2 or 2:30 p.m."

Authorities said only about 10 people, including employees and patrons, were in the bank when the explosion occurred. A gas line to the bank was immediately shut off but several neighboring businesses were evacuated as a precaution.
Police cordoned off a four-block area around the bank, snarling traffic in the already heavily congested downtown area.
Wells Fargo was planning to send its own security people to the scene to secure the bank, said bank market president Andrew Mastorakis.
Mastorakis said there had been no threats made against the bank and that all evidence pointed to an explosion in the boiler. Fire officials and police were expected to remain at the scene to establish an official cause of the blast. Engineers from the bank and the city were assessing structural damage to the building last night.
Lance Berg, a Wells Fargo spokesman in San Francisco, said customers in Walnut Creek should use Wells Fargo's branch on South Broadway until the branch on North Main reopens.















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