A natural gas release in Playa del Rey that caused a massive flare and sent drops of oily residue into surrounding residential neighborhoods Sunday is under investigation, air quality officials said Wednesday.

"We did receive a notification from (the) California Emergency Management Agency on Sunday of a small spill of hydrocarbon liquid," said Sam Atwood, spokesman with the South Coast Air Quality Management District, in an emailed statement. "We are following up and will inspect the facility, check compliance with our rules, and investigate the details of the incident."

Operations at the Southern California Gas Co. natural gas storage facility were suspended in the wake of the incident, said company spokesman Javier Mendoza.

It's unclear when operations will resume.

The "unplanned" release caused "an unusually large visible flame," which was extinguished within an hour, the company said in a letter to residents.

Resident Mark Santoro criticized the company for dowplaying the incident, saying he thought "the whole world was on fire."

"It was a great explosion," he said. "It rocked the whole area. There's this spattering of oil and kind of a sheen. My house is all sprayed with oil - my pool, my car, everything."

- Nick Green



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