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Propane Blast Rocks Chico

Investigators tried to learn the cause a huge propane explosion that burned several cars, damaged two buildings and sent flames shooting into the air, while residents who evacuated their homes after the blast waited to see if they could return.

Authorities closed the surrounding streets and recommended that about 500 people evacuate their homes after one of two tanks on a propane truck exploded Sunday, said Mike Carr, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry.

The voluntary evacuation warning was issued because the truck€™s other tank remained intact and contained propane, and officials were worried that it too might explode, Carr said. He said no one was injured. Authorities said the explosion occurred at about 9:30 a.m. as the tanker truck turned around in an industrial area just south of Chico, a tree-lined town about 150 miles northeast of San Francisco that is home to a California State University campus.

The cause of the blast was unknown, although the truck driver told the Chico Enterprise-Record that he saw liquid coming from the vehicle, so he started to run away. Seconds later, the explosion knocked him to the ground, the driver told the paper. The blast knocked out windows in two nearby buildings and set about five nearby cars on fire, Carr said. The truck€™s cab and the exploding tank were both largely destroyed, Carr said, although the truck€™s other tank remained upright. Some propane continued to burn after the explosion, and authorities poured water on the intact tank in an effort to prevent it from exploding too, Carr said. Authorities later interviewed the driver, James Edward Gowen, 40, of Sacramento. Carr said he did not know if Gowen would face charges.

Most of the 500 affected residents heeded the advice to leave their homes, and authorities warned later in the day that people should plan to stay away throughout the night, Carr said.