Firefighter Killed in Manhole Explosion

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A firefighter investigating an explosion that blew manhole covers off an underground electrical vault was killed when a second blast hurled more of them, which apparently struck him, authorities said.

They also hit another firefighter, who was being treated for a fracture to his ankle and arm, authorities said. A bystander suffered minor injuries in the explosions on a busy commercial strip.

The other firefighter was pronounced dead after being taken to a hospital, Fire Chief Douglas Barry said. He was a 10-year department veteran.

"We are deeply saddened by what happened today, the loss of one of our family members," Barry said. "These types of incidents hit us very, very deeply."

When the firefighters arrived around 2 p.m., they saw smoke coming from several manholes that cover an underground electrical vault, Deputy Fire Chief Mario Rueda said.

Two covers were off when they arrived at a two-story building near Los Angeles International Airport. They saw smoke coming from the back of the building and, when they approached, another blast blew the covers off, he said.

"It appeared to be at least electrical in nature because of the substations that are underneath Sepulveda (Boulevard), but we don't have a cause of the explosion at this point," Rueda said.

Rueda said there was "no indication, no evidence, that natural gas was involved."

The explosions ripped through the stucco walls on a corner of the building, which houses the Water and Power Community Credit Union. Witnesses told KABC-TV that the loud blasts shook some buildings.

Judy Johnson said she heard two explosions that happened about 10 minutes apart.

"I saw a fireman going down in a stretcher; he had blood going down his face," Johnson said.

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