San Bruno Gas Explosion Viral Media Roundup

Having arrived about 20 minutes early to pick someone up at San Francisco Airport yesterday, I figured I’d pull off the freeway at San Bruno Avenue and find a place to kick back with some Cornell Woolrich while I waited until closer to the arrival to get into the SFO traffic fray.

“And hey,” I thought. “Why’s that fog coming off the mountain so BROWN, anyway?”

Oooops! I skimmed along the exit by an armada of stopped cars with people shooting video of what looked like the entire mountain not just on fire but SPEWING flame into the sky, the way you only see it on the news. For a moment, I thought for sure it was a plane crash, SFO being so close — and that the giant blasts of flame irregularly shooting hundreds of feet into the air were gouts of burning jet fuel.

It wasn’t, and they weren’t. The blasts of flame were natural gas, as I’d discover later. It was (of course) the huge gas line explosion in San Bruno that killed at least four people and destroyed dozens of homes. As I exited the freeway at 6:42, this had happened two minutes before I saw it.

I was without a camera at the time, but — thankfully for the cause of citizen journalism — plenty of people were not. In fact, the interesting thing about this disaster, to me, is how thoroughly local news is now blending citizen accounts and citizen media with media from news professionals. A wonderful gent named Kurt the Cyberguy posted a wonderful list of links to some of the footage of this disaster, and a quick search of YouTube nets even more.

However, the interesting and disturbing trend came in searching Flickr — virtually NO images — at least none of any newsworthiness whatsoever — tagged for non-commercial reuse under Creative Commons. It’s just an impression, but I can’t help but think we’ve passed a breaking point with photos of news events, given how easy Flickr has made it to commercially license (for money) images in its system. Could people be refraining from applying Creative Commons non-commercial reuse tags, in the interest of posting a news-event photo that generates a financial windfall?

But enough of my random paranoid speculation. Check out some of the most illuminating videos of the San Bruno tragedy below, and our condolences to all those affected and the families of those who lost their lives.

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