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Mills reacts to San Bruno fire

Boxes of emergency supplies collected from various relief groups line up the sidewalk in San Bruno. (Tashina Manyak)

“The smell was of burnt plastic and wood. It was nauseating,” said Hilda Ramos, a sophomore at Mills, who has lived in her current home in San Bruno for 3 years. She and her family were evacuated on Sept. 9 after a natural gas pipe burst, causing an explosion and fire that left four people dead, four more unaccounted for, 15 acres of land leveled and 37 homes destroyed.

PG&E said in a statement released on Sept. 13 that it was going pay up to $100 million of the damage caused by the utility’s burst pipeline, covering the losses of uninsured victims and the city’s fire response costs.

The utility does not have immediate information regarding when reconstruction work will begin at the site of the explosion, according to PG&E spokesperson Paul Moreno.

“I realize money can’t return lives. It can’t heal scars, it can’t replace memories,” Chris Johns, President of PG&E, told reporters at a news conference. “But there does come a time for healing and for rebuilding, and we are committed to helping that happen.”

Members of the Mills community recognize San Bruno’s need for help rebuilding as well.

Amy Duong, a resident advisor for the nursing and education LLC at Mills, posted a notice on Student News that she is forming a group of students in order to help with the relief effort in San Bruno.

“I knew that once the media coverage decreases, volunteers would slowly dissipate and ‘move on,'” Duong said in an email about why she decided to put this group together. “I know that ‘moving on’ for the victims is no easy. Recovery is a slow and delicate process.”

So far, 14 Mills students have signed up with Duong to aid several different organizations in San Bruno, though specific action has been on hold as most relief organizations are in need of volunteers with emergency preparedness training.

“I believe that Mills recognizes and has the leadership skills and capacity to help these victims,” Duong said.

For Ramos, it is the fear of losing those you love that haunts her after this tragedy.

Ramos and her family heard the explosion from her house 6 blocks away, but assumed it was fireworks or a plane passing over. It wasn’t until her mom left for work that they noticed the smoke.

Alone with her 5-year-old sister, Ramos turned on the news to see what had happened.

The news reports about the explosion were ambiguous and vague Ramos said in an email to The Campanil a couple days after the event. “First it was a gas station that exploded, then it was an airplane crash, and then it was a gas pipe explosion. Everyone was saying they saw an airplane, or a gas tank, or the pipe. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Then the power was shut off. In the dark, Ramos and her sister listened to the fireball 6 blocks away.

“The fire could actually be heard through my windows. It was a huge roaring, frightening sound.”

Ramos was evacuated from her San Bruno home around 8 p.m. the night of the fire. She, her dog and her five-year-old sister left their house without knowing what had happened.

“I was shaking so badly and I wanted to cry. My sister kept saying she didn’t want her house to burn.”

Ramos, her sister and her dog were evacuated to the nearby shopping center. Here they witnessed the true devastation of the fire.

“I cannot convey the sadness that people had when I arrived at the shopping center.” she said. “I really felt like I would break down. It suddenly became too much.”

Ramos’ home was not destroyed in the fire, but the tragedy has affected her psychologically.

“At night I now have to sleep with my sister and mother,” she said. “It’s a constant fear that I won’t see them again so I have to be with them.”

There are other ways people can help those affected by the fire in San Bruno.

Here’s how you can help:

Donate to the Red Cross – visit or call (888) 443-5722 to donate money or get information.

Donate to the Salvation Army’s San Bruno Fire Recovery fund – visit, call (800) 725-2769 or donate clothing and furniture.

Donate your time to California Volunteers – visit

Donate to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation – The San Bruno Fire Fund will match gifts of up to $100,000. Go to and click on “Donate Now.”