Gas explosion closes major highway, injures at least 15 in California

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The Fresno County Sheriff's Office says there has been a gas explosion at the peace officers gun range on Weber Avenue in Northwest Fresno. (#abc30insider Natalie)

A large gas explosion closed both directions of a major highway in Central California and injured at least 15 people, four of them critically, authorities said Friday.

Four patients are being treated at the hospital's burn and trauma center, Community Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Mary Lisa Russell said. Three people in critical condition and one in serious condition are being treated at the burn and trauma center of Community Regional Medical Center, Russell said.

Four other patients were taken to St. Agnes Hospital and three more to Madera Community Hospital, Fresno County Medical Services director Dan Lynch said.

Traffic heading north and south on Highway 99 in Fresno was halted by the explosion about 2:30 p.m., the California Highway Patrol reported.

The explosion happened at the Fresno County Sheriff's gun range, where a work crew, including county jail inmates, using heavy equipment apparently hit a pipe carrying natural gas, Botti said. One of the workers appeared to be in critical condition, he said.

No law enforcement officers were injured, Botti said. A nearby rail line was also halted out of concern that a passing train could spark leaking gas.

Witnesses reported seeing a large fireball, said Pete Martinez of the Fresno Fire Department. The flames prompted a two-alarm call of firefighters.

The CHP asked drivers to use alternative routes. It's unclear when the highway will reopen.

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