was standing on the corner of Post and Kearny on my way to work this morning, waiting for the light to change, when the Ralph Lauren store across the street blew up. A loud explosion erupted on one side of the building and blew out the storefront windows and a huge fireball about twenty feet wide engulfed the sidewalk and four or five people walking by disappeared inside a wall of flames and smoke and flying glass. Everyone seemed to run out of harm's way except for one woman who was black with soot, her hair burned completely off, a long bloody gash on top of her bald and burned scalp. She was walking and in shock and a cop who had been directing traffic across the street ran to help her and escorted her to the curb across the street and retrieved her backpack from the middle of the street. When they got her to the hopital she was so badly burned that doctors put her into a medically induced coma for two or three weeks. The store wasn't open yet, and I wondered if any employees inside had been injured, but apparently not. Another bystander caught these shots of me watching the scene on her cell phone. I called KCBS after I got to work and was interviewed live over the phone on radio and television.

he explosion was spectacular, but from my vantage point diagonally across the street not especially percussive, and didn't seem like the work of terrorists. I assumed a gas main had blown up or something like that, and news reports confirmed later that PG&E had been working on an electrical transformer vault under the sidewalk. It certainly didn't compare to the gas main explosion that leveled a three story apartment building at the corner of Post and Hyde several years ago

which blew out windows in adjacent buildings a block in each direction. My building a half block up the street felt like it had been hit by a freight train. I ran outside and the building on the corner, across the street from the apartment building where Dashiell Hammett wrote the Maltese Falcon, was a pile of rubble, and flames burned three or four stories high for half an hour. Two guys excavated from underneath a pile of bricks on the sidewalk were even unluckier than the woman today. PG&E was digging up gas lines under the street in that intersection at the time, but tried to deny any responsibility for the mishap.

ou never know what calamity you'll encounter on your way to work downtown in San Francisco. One morning a few months after the Loma Prieta earthquake I happened across a giant crane that a few minutes earlier had tumbled off the top of an office building under construction at the corner of California and Kearny and fallen twenty or thirty stories to crush a schoolbus driving by on the street below.