PG&E took an hour and a half to shut off the gas that fueled last week's explosion in Cupertino because crews needed to dig a small hole in the asphalt to reach the pipe and cap the leak, fire officials said Tuesday.

"It sounds like it needs some review if that's the current process for shutting off the gas," Cupertino Councilman Orrin Mahoney said at a meeting Tuesday.

The meeting was the first since a cracked plastic distribution pipe leaked gas into a townhome's garage Aug. 31, igniting a fire that destroyed the condo -- but with no one home, there were no injuries.

Despite Mahoney's criticism, Santa Clara County fire officials praised PG&E for how it dealt with the circumstances.

Kendall Pearson, the Santa Clara County fire battalion chief who led the response, told council members that PG&E first responded 11 minutes after the fire was reported -- just 5½ minutes after firefighters' arrival on scene. But PG&E workers then undertook "an operation," digging a 4-by-4-by-3-foot hole in the road to access the T-shaped leaking pipe.

"Pretty quick, from what I've seen during my career," Pearson said. "The workers did a great job and got things done in a pretty rapid fashion."

Firefighters from Cupertino and Sunnyvale extinguished the fire quickly. But PG&E was criticized after last year's deadly San Bruno explosion for taking too long to shut off the flow of gas, causing the fire to rage longer.


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PG&E's director of gas operations, Jodie Kubota, said at Tuesday's meeting that the utility is bringing in experts to complete a plan for its 1,200 miles of similar plastic pipe in its system.

Kubota said the plastic -- the utility's material of choice for small distribution pipes made from the late '60s to early '70s -- is made of a resin known to crack slowly. The council asked PG&E to compile a list of pipes in the city made with the plastic.

"Our community is legitimately very, very concerned about this," Mayor Gilbert Wong said.

In that townhome complex alone, on Northwest Square, PG&E is replacing 12,000 feet of similar pipe. The utility is also giving money to the owner of the building for "initial needs" and housing, Kubota said.

Kubota said no one had called PG&E to report smelling gas on the day of the blast but that the utility was still digging into its records to determine if anyone had called earlier in the month.

Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705.