Tanker explosion at Santa Rosa Kaiser Permanente medical building prompts evacuations, Hwy. 101 reopens
An explosion involving a tanker truck delivering liquid oxygen Wednesday afternoon outside a Kaiser Permanente medical office building prompted the evacuation of patients and employees at the campus north of Santa Rosa. Nearby Highway 101 was shut for about two hours.
Both medical offices located on the Old Redwood Highway property about a mile north of Kaiser’s main hospital campus were evacuated, with patients being escorted or taken away on stretchers. No patients or staff were hurt, but the tanker’s driver was transported to a nearby hospital for treatment of significant injuries.
One of the facilities, Building 4 at 3925 Old Redwood Highway, will open for business as usual Thursday, Kaiser said Wednesday evening. The other facility, Building 5 at 3975 Old Redwood Highway, will remain closed “for further inspections,” according to a statement from Kaiser.
The health care giant said staff were contacting patients who had appointments or outpatient surgeries set for Thursday at Medical Office Building 5 to reschedule or make other arrangements.
The explosion was reported around 2:30 p.m., and apparently occurred after something went wrong while the oxygen was being delivered to an on-site tank, according to Santa Rosa Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal.
Jenna Ausiello, a field interviewer for the division of research at Kaiser’s regional office in Oakland, was interviewing someone in a conference room when the explosion happened.
“It sounded like the start of an earthquake,” she said. “That’s what I thought was happening. The windows shook ... it was just a big boom.”
Some witnesses reported the explosion could be heard in the nearby Fountaingrove area.
A small vegetation fire ignited, but it was quickly controlled by one of the first responding engines, Lowenthal said. Early reports indicated the truck may have crashed into the building, but officials hadn’t found any evidence to confirm that. The building wasn’t damaged, although some cars were, as was some mechanical equipment, Lowenthal said.
Authorities had the leak at the tanker under control by about 4:35 p.m., according to Lowenthal, though a small amount of “residual” gas was still seeping out about 5:20 p.m.
“That is being monitored by us, but that very small amount presents no threat to the surrounding area,” Lowenthal said.
Numerous Santa Rosa police officers and firefighters responded, with assistance from the Sheriff’s Office helicopter Henry 1. Authorities also were aided by a Santa Rosa Police Department drone, which was “instrumental” in giving officials a bird’s-eye view of the scene as they worked to get the situation under control, Lowenthal said.
Authorities couldn’t say exactly where the driver was at the time of the explosion.
The truck bore the name of Matheson, a New Jersey-based industrial and medical gas supplier. While parked in the back of the office campus, the rear of the vehicle appeared burned, with some metal parts disfigured.
Santa Rosa fire investigators were still working to determine the cause of the explosion, with assistance from Santa Rosa police. Matheson representatives are working “hand in hand” with authorities to resolve the situation, Lowenthal said.
Company officials reached in Newark, California, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA, is also investigating, Lowenthal said. Patients and staff either left on their own or were reportedly taken by Kaiser or Santa Rosa CityBus to Kaiser’s main campus on Bicentennial Way.