Federal officials to probe fatal Rancho Cordova gas explosion

A day after a fatal Christmas Eve explosion obliterated a home in a Rancho Cordova neighborhood and badly damaged two others, federal officials confirmed they will lead the investigation into what caused it.

The National Transportation Safety Board, known for probing airplane crashes, said Thursday it will investigate the explosion via its Office of Railroad, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials.

Authorities have blamed natural gas for fueling the blast, and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has acknowledged it received reports of a gas leak in the area hours before the explosion.

Utility officials said the leak is suspected to have occurred in a gas pipeline under the roadway, prompting them to turn over the investigation to the federal agency.

An investigator is expected to arrive Sunday from Maryland and begin the probe Monday morning, NTSB spokeswoman Bridget Serchak said.

With few answers into what sparked the tragedy, the neighborhood, within sight of Highway 50, and its frightened residents spent their Christmas Day trying to recover from Wednesday's terrifying ordeal.

Cristina Salanoa lives with her grandmother in a house next door to the devastation and said she narrowly escaped the tragedy at 10708 Paiute Way.

Wilbert Paana, 72, died Wednesday night from his injuries at the destroyed home, the Sacramento County Coroner's Office said. Two others in his family, 17-year-old Sunny Dickson and 44-year-old Kim Dickson, were taken to the University of California, Davis, Medical Center in critical condition with third-degree burns.

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