Fire and school officials have been unable to investigate the cause of an explosion at Santa Ana Valley High School because the building is too unstable to enter, officials said Wednesday.
One Santa Ana School district maintenance executive, however, said he didn’t believe the explosion was caused by a defective boiler, and another said officials at the district level knew of no warnings of gas leaks.
Valley High School employees and a student told Voice of OC that there have been numerous complaints about an odor of gas in and near the building.
“I couldn’t find a thing” about complaints to the district about gas leaks, said Assistant Superintendent Joe Dixon. He said he and other officials will continue to investigate whether anyone at the school or the district was advised of a possible leak in the area near the boys locker room.
No one was inside the building at 7:30 a.m. when the blast occurred in a boiler room, tearing open the roof of the building and sending a door flying 75 feet.
Reports of annual county inspections from June 2011 and July 2012, obtained by Voice of OC under the California Public Records Act, reported no gas leaks or mechanical problems in the boiler room where the blast occurred. A request for work orders on the building showed just two formal calls for district maintenance since 2010, neither involving gas leaks.
Dennis Ziegler, director of building services, said even after the explosion the boiler still is “100 percent intact. We can honestly tell you it was not the boiler.”
But Dixon was more cautious and emphasized the district has not yet determined the cause of the blast. Inspectors from Southern California Gas Co. and the Orange County Fire Authority are helping with the investigation. “There’s a lot of due diligence that takes place” so “it will be a while” before the cause of the explosion is known, Dixon said.
“Obviously, it was a gas leak of some kind,” he said, adding “we want to know as much as anyone else” what happened.
Dixon also said districtwide budget cuts have not affected the ability to do preventive maintenance and routine replacement at school sites and praised district leaders for keeping a strong maintenance program in place. If defects had been detected in either the boiler or gas lines, the district had the ability to fix or replace them, he said.
Both the Fire Authority and the school district inspect school sites every year, said Dixon. Fire officials are so strict they even “write us up on extension cords,” he said.