One person was killed and at least three others were injured Tuesday in an explosion and fire at a medical building in Aliso Viejo, prompting a large-scale response by fire and sheriff’s officials working to determine what caused the blast.
The fire at the building at 11 Mareblu — an outpatient medical clinic — was quickly doused following the roughly 1:10 p.m. explosion, but hazardous materials officials and bomb squad investigators amassed at the scene.
Authorities initially indicated a car had crashed into the building, but Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Tony Bommarito and sheriff’s officials said later that was not the case.
“We have confirmed there was no vehicle inside,” Bommarito said, adding there was an explosion inside the building.
Although the cause of the blast was still unknown, Bommarito told reporters around 3:30 p.m. that there was “no immediate hazard” to the community.
“There’s no immediate hazard. The situation is static,” he said, adding it was a “slow and go” investigation.
Authorities will not enter the building until they “deem it safe,” he said.
Fire and sheriff’s officials said the building appeared to be undergoing some type of renovation, but that has not been confirmed. The large contingent of fire and law-enforcement personnel gathered at the scene were cautiously trying to determine the best way to search the building, with sheriff’s department spokeswoman Carrie Braun saying bomb-sniffing dogs might be deployed into the building first.
“We are going to take every precaution necessary before we enter that building,” Bommarito said.
Sheriff’s deputies were called to the same block of Mareblu at 11:35 p.m. Monday for a “patrol check,” according to sheriff’s records. It was not immediately clear what prompted that call.
There were unconfirmed initial witness reports that Tuesday’s blast may have been a gas explosion, but Bommarito said it is rare for such a gas-fueled blast to occur in a commercial building.
He said the person who died was inside the building when the blast occurred. It’s unknown if the person is a man or woman.
CBS2 reported that sheriff’s deputies were taking photos of every vehicle that left the scene.
FBI spokesman Mike Gifford said the cause of the explosion is still unknown and the agency has sent resources to help with the investigation, which is being led by Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
Children and staff at nearby Academy on the Hills preschool initially sheltered in place while the investigation continued, but children were later evacuated to a Target store parking lot so they could be reunited with their parents. No children were injured, officials said.
Video from the scene showed teachers leading the children along a sidewalk toward the Target. Other people could be scene wheeling cribs down the street as the area was evacuated.
Bommarito said one of the injured people suffered from smoke inhalation, but the extent of the other victims’ injuries was unknown.
A woman who was on her way to an appointment in the area told CBS2 she arrived just after the blast occurred, and she saw fire on the roof of the building.
“Then everyone started running out of buildings everywhere with looks on their faces of just horror,” the woman said. “… I saw two women come out full of blood, hair singed, just glass stuck to the hair, glass stuck to their bodies. Their skin was burned and peeled back, and they were just in shock.
“… They weren’t on fire, they were helping each other across the street, walking very slowly and a lot of shock, shaking, just full of ash all over their face, eyes bloodshot, just blood all over,” the woman said.