(PHOTOGRAPH BY: Dan Honda / Contra Costa Times / September 9, 2010)

SAN BRUNO -- Officials say an eighth victim has died from the gas line explosion that consumed a Northern California neighborhood earlier this month.

The San Mateo County coroner's office said Tuesday it was notified of 58-year-old James Emil Franco's death Monday morning.

Seven other people died in the explosion, 50-year-old Gregory Bullis and his mother, 85-year-old Lavonne Bullis, Gregory Bullis' son, 17-year-old William James Bullis, 44-year-old Jacqueline Greig and her 13-year-old daughter Janessa Greig, 81-year-old Elizabeth Torres, and 20-year-old Jessica Morales.

A gas line rupture last Thursday fueled a roaring blaze so intense that it cracked windshields of the closest fire engines and sent four firefighters to the hospital for smoke inhalation.

The blast also broke a water main, leaving all hydrants in the area dry.

"It was a sinking feeling," Forester said. "We needed massive water for this thing - and we discovered there was no water."

While residents helped crews drag hoses from nearly 4,000 feet away to supply water, other first-responders, including South San Francisco police Lt. Ron Carlino, pushed into smoke-filled homes to check for survivors. Searing heat prevented them from getting too close to the heart of the fire.

"We were left helpless," Carlino said. "The wall of fire was incredibly, intensely hot. We were helpless knowing there were people we couldn't get to."

Many of the 400 police officers and firefighters who responded to the explosion, which claimed at least four lives and destroyed nearly 40 homes, acted despite the dangers: Some were fighting for a neighborhood they grew up in, the homes of friends and streets where children played.

"I saw smoke and flames, and I knew I had to go," said South San Francisco police Detective Ken Chetcuti, who grew up in the area. "I was thinking to myself that I knew a lot of people in that neighborhood."

Federal investigators have wrapped up their on-site probe and had moved on to interviewing witnesses of the blast.

Christopher Hart, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said investigators still don't know what caused the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. gas transmission line to rupture and blow a section of 30-inch pipe out of the ground.

The NTSB removed parts of that pipe and shipped it to a lab where it will be tested. Officials could not say how long it will take the agency to release the test results, which could show if corrosion or some other factor caused the rupture.

Investigators were also constructing a timeline of the incident and were looking into why it took PG&E crews nearly two hours to shut off the gas, allowing it to fuel the flames. The company has said it took time to manually turn the valves for the pipes.