September 9 will mark the one-year anniversary of the San Bruno pipeline explosion and subsequent fire in which eight people were killed and 38 homes destroyed. Leading up to the anniversary, Amy Standen of KQED QUEST is interviewing survivors of the disaster.
On Sept 9, 2010, Kevin Ashley was home with his two children on Claremont Drive, about a block away from the explosion. Jayden, then 4, and Kaleah, 1, had just finished dinner and were jumping on the bed. When the blast hit, Kevin says, the heat was so intense he didn’t think he could make it to his car. So he picked up his kids and ran.
Today the Ashleys live in South San Francisco, and have no plans to return to San Bruno. “It’s not a home if you don’t feel safe,” says Michele Ashley.
A year later, Kevin still finds it difficult to talk about the experience. Audio of the interview and an edited transcript below…
I told Jayden to stay in the hallway because I didn’t want him to be exposed. I held Claire, I ran and I grabbed my keys and my wallet, and then I grabbed the kids clothes and shoes, I put on their shoes, we sprinted out the door.
I can only say I saw one of the most impressive scenes of my life. You saw people running down the hill. And the orange fire just came – it was just flowing smoothly down as the people — (pause to collect himself). As the people were running away.
I told Jayden a couple of weeks ago, you should never doubt yourself in anything you do. Because the way that he and Kaleah reacted during that whole experience – he never cried, he didn’t panic. I told him he was a brave boy.
Do you remember what the fire looked like?
Orange flames. I put on a long cozy tee-shirt.
Kevin How did you feel?
Kevin My number one goal was, first of all, I didn’t want to die. But then I go, whatever, I didn’t want my kids to die. I didn’t want them to be burned. And then I decided, ‘it’s not going to happen.’ And it didn’t happen.
That’s our miracle from God. That’s the challenge you deal with: Your miracle is also someone else’s tragedy. There’s a lot of guilt that you live with; there’ s a lot of joy that you live with. Because of just surviving. Part of your kids’ innocence are lost.
Do I have faith that PGE will be punished or anyone will be punished? I don’t think so. Just because of the nature of the politics and how everyone is connected. If you look at what happened in the the collapse of 2008, no bankers have really been punished. And I just see the same thing happening now, where PG&E is probably going to pay a fine from some fund set aside to some insurance, and it’s going to be business as usual until the next thing happens.
I just want someone to be held accountable of some stature. It’s not going to bring anyone’s lives back, but so we don’t have these things happening in the future.
You can listen to Amy Standen’s QUEST report on the investigation into the explosion below:
All of our San Bruno Stories:
- Part 1: ‘I didn’t want to die. But then I go, whatever, I didn’t want my kids to die.’
- Part 2: ‘He still had smoke coming off his entire body.’
- Part 3: ‘The kids ask, ‘Why was the fire on our house?’
- Part 4: ‘I knew our house…[was] gone, but I was smiling…’
- Part 5: ‘She’s screaming into her cell phone, and all I heard was screaming’
- Part 6: ‘They cut corners, took shortcuts…’