Southern California

Oktoberfest Celebration Canceled After Explosion, 1 Still Hospitalized

The owner's sister said they called SCE days before the explosion and were told everything was fine

The Old World Village's Oktoberfest celebration in Huntington Beach was canceled Sunday and Monday, just days after an explosion injured five, with the owner still hospitalized. 

The Oktoberfest celebration, Old World Euromarket and Old World restaurant was closed on Sunday and Monday as Southern California Edison investigates the cause of the explosion Saturday night. 

The explosion happened during the annual Oktoberfest. About 15-20 minutes before the explosions, someone called the fire department after lights at the event began flickering. A crew from the Huntington Beach Fire Department responded and went to investigate an underground vault.

During that time the owner of the restaurant put up caution tape around the patio to make sure no one approached the area. An odour then started to come from the underground vault where the transformers were. 

When firefighters approached the vault, there was a first explosion, the HBFD said. Then, there were two more explosions, sending flames shooting high into the air. 

"There was an underground vault containing three transformers one of those transformers exploded," said Jeff Lopez, Battalion Chief of HBFP. "That initial explosion knocked everybody down." 

The owner, Bernie Bischof was injured during the explosions. He was injured escorting the fire department to the source of the odour, said Oktoberfest spokesman Dan Escamilla

"He was the first person walking in and that's when the blast occurred so he received the brunt of it," said Escamilla. "He's suffering from second to third degree burns over 38 percent of his body right now."

Two other firefighters were injured during the explosion.

"When the explosion occurred the mineral oil contained in the transformer was either extremely hot or on fire," said Escamilla. "That rained down on their heads. In the case of Bernie, it splattered all over his arms and legs." 

It was Bischof's 42nd year holding Oktoberfest. His father built Old World Village. Escamilla said people are crediting Bischof with saving their lives after reporting off parts of the festival before the explosion.

Bishof's sister, Cyndie Kasko called him "a hero" for helping clear the area of people before the explosion.

The two other civilians and two firefighters injured were released from the hospital Sunday. 

Kasko said Bischof is in the burn unit at UCI Medical Center and could be there for weeks. 

"All I remember is someone coming up to me and grabbing me and saying 'your brother is on fire,'" said Kasko.  

Kasko said there was a similar incident with the same transformers in 2010 in the middle of the night. 

"All the tables were blown over and fire marks were everywhere," said Kasko. "The trees that were around that area were cinged from the fire." 

In the days before the explosion, Kasko said her brother and her called SCE after hearing concerning noises from the vault.

"There was more crackling noises again," Kasko said. "They [SCE] came out and said it was fine so we just trusted they knew what was going on." 

SCE said they could not confirm any of the previous incidents. As of Monday afternoon, SCE was still investigating the exact cause of the explosion.

The next Oktoberfest event is expected to be Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. 

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