A restaurant owner remains hospitalized Sunday with severe injuries suffered when a transformer inside an underground electrical vault exploded at the Old World Village’s seasonal celebration in Huntington Beach, a fire department battalion chief said.
Two other civilians and two firefighters were also injured in the blast. They all have been treated and released as a result of the reported 8:19 p.m. Saturday explosion, Huntington Beach Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Lopez said Sunday morning.
The victim with the most severe injuries was identified as Bernie Bischof, a restaurant owner at the shopping and dining complex, the OC Register reported. The newspaper quoted a woman who lives above the shopping area and said Bischof was the one who called Huntington Beach firefighters to report a problem.
An underground vault in the area of 7561 Center Ave. contained three transformers — one of which exploded, Lopez said.
The flames were out at 8:33 p.m. and the blast caused minimal structural damage, but left about 300 Southern California Edison customers in the dark. Total restoration was expected by noon, Lopez said.
Witnesses at the scene claimed there were actually three explosions. A witness using the Twitter handle kylen1972 posted video on the platform of what he claimed was the second explosion, in which flames can be seen shooting into the air.
Restaurant patron Dawn Orlow-Townsend told KCAL9 the lights flickered before the explosions and that she could feel the heat through the walls. She said that after the initial blast, “you could hear a pin drop.” She then described a scene of panic as patrons struggled to get out of the building.
“It was crazy, it was so intense,” Orlow-Townsend said. “There was a second explosion and then a third. We just started running, we left our cell phones. We were freaking out. People were running all over. It was crazy.”
She added, “It’s the world we live in right now. After the first explosion, you just don’t know what to think. We didn’t know what was going on. The first one, the second one — then there was mass pandemonium. By the third one, we just couldn’t get out of there fast enough.”
KCAL9 also talked to Adam Carlson. “Everyone was just happy and drinking beer and then the first explosion hit and people started backing away, and security tried to calm everyone,” he said. “I didn’t see anyone get hurt in my immediate response, but while evacuating, we saw — I personally saw two people that appeared hurt, one had burns. I just tried to comfort who I could.”
The injured firefighters were already at Old World Village, investigating reports of a possible electrical fire, Lopez said.
Firefighters and police worked to evacuate employees and patrons of Old World Village, he said. Broadcast reports indicate there were more than 100 visitors at the celebration.