"There was a deep rumble then there was what felt like an explosion."
Simon Sarkisian was sitting at his desk making plans to leave town for the weekend when a calm afternoon changed in an instant. "I looked out my window and saw a wall of thick black smoke, there was fire everywhere. You could hear pressure it was so loud it sounded like a jet engine," aaid Sarkisian who thought a plane had just crashed.
An explosion and fire sent black smoke into the air Thursday around 4:30 p.m. near where State Route 15 connects with State Route 94.
A 911 call from the John Lenore & Company at 1250 Delevan Drive reported an explosion, according to San Diego Fire and Rescue spokesperson Maurice Luque. A 5000 gallon propane tank used to fuel vehicles and forklifts at the company somehow started leaking and caught fire, causing the explosion, police said.
Minutes after he heard the explosion Sarkisian said an army of police officers on bullhorns started knocking on doors at the Hillside Villas apartment complex on 34th street in Golden Hill.
An evacuation zone was set for a mile radius around the source of the fire and CHP officers shut down State Route 15 in both directions at the request of firefighters.
"They were yelling 'Evacuate now. Every one must leave now.' It all happened so fast," Sarkisian said.
"We looked down at the warehouse below us and there were huge flames going 40 feet in the air, very, very vigorously and you could tell it was apparently a natural gas fire and then lots and lots of smoke and so we pulled the fire alarms and everybody in the 38 condos in our condo unit evacuated right away," resident James Baker said.
The fire started spreading to the hillside but was contained by helicopter drops of water.
"People were afraid for their pets," Baker said. "We were worried about the care center next door where there are a number of old people and long term health people are kept, but now firefighters are getting it under control it looks like, so we're not so concerned about it."
Cecilia Maldonado was on her way home when she got a call from her neighbor Sarkisian. "I looked up and saw the smoke and thought 'Oh my God, it's my home,'" she said.
She rushed to get to her apartment, able to get past police barricades because of the vehicles tailing her. "There were a bunch of fire trucks following me so I think they let me in to get me out of their way," she said.
As she watched firefighters work quickly, she worried about smoke harming her pets, two cats named Bootie and Baby Tigger.
A few minutes later a police officer's simple words sparked pure joy. "You can go back in now," the officer told Maldonado. The neighbors shrieked with delight and the officer was caught off guard when she got a hug from Sarkisian. "Oh thank you, thank God. I can check on my babies now," he said as ran toward his apartment.
The highway was reopened as of 5:25 p.m. No injuries have been reported at the business.