Pa. home rocked by explosion

October 07, 2005|By DON AINES and RICHARD F. BELISLE

QUINCY, Pa. - A Quincy Township couple's home was rocked by an explosion as they ate breakfast Thursday morning and investigators are looking into the possibility that it was caused by a buildup of methane gas in the basement.

"We were sitting in the kitchen and it just blew up," Ronald Barnes of 8010 Mentzer Gap Road said a few hours after the explosion and fire that destroyed their rancher. Barnes said he and his wife, Maxine, heard "a thud" followed by the explosion, which blew open the door to the basement.

"It just blew right open and a ball of fire rolled out ... We don't know what caused it," said Ronald Barnes, whose hair was singed by the flames. The explosion also blew the bricks off the back wall of the house and buckled the cinder block foundation wall.


"They got out safely, but two cats didn't," Waynesboro Fire Department Deputy Chief Gary Summers said. He said the call came in at 6:34 a.m. and fire was coming through the roof of the house by the time the first firefighters arrived.

"It's been many a year since we've had a house this involved on arrival," Summers said. It was quickly determined firefighters could not safely enter the house to fight the fire, he said.

There were no fire hydrants in the area, so seven tanker trucks relayed water to the scene, Summers said. He estimated about 10,000 gallons of water were poured on the fire along with compressed air foam.

"It took us about an hour to knock the majority of the fire down," Summers said.

As for the possibility of a methane gas explosion: "We're looking into that. There's nothing concrete yet," said Trooper Jeffrey Sarver, a Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal. He said the blue-green flame Ronald Barnes reported seeing "is indicative of a type of gas."

"We've got to get some heavy equipment in there and get a closer look," Sarver said.

The house did not have natural gas service or liquid propane tanks, Summers said. Sarver said municipal sewer lines had been installed in the area about a year ago.

After the explosion, nearby houses were monitored for sewer gas, but none was found, according to Quincy Township Manager David Whitmer, who placed a condemnation notice on the door.

Sarver said methane gas tends to sink and collect in low areas. He said an appliance, such as one of the two dehumidifiers in the basement, could have been the source of ignition if it switched on automatically.

The force of the explosion sent debris flying "a pretty good distance from the residence," Sarver said. If anyone had been in the basement at the time, "it would have been a bad situation," he said.

The fire was fought with the assistance of units from Mont Alto, St. Thomas, South Mountain, Blue Ridge Summit, Marion, New Franklin, Greencastle and Chambersburg's Franklin Fire Co., along with the Buchanan Valley and Fountaindale fire companies from Adams County and firefighters from the Maugansville, Smithsburg, Leitersburg, Longmeadow and Emmitsburg fire companies in Maryland. Ambulances from Waynesboro and St. Thomas were at the scene, along with the Franklin County Emergency Air Unit, according to a county 911 dispatcher.

Firefighters were at the scene until about 3:30 p.m., the dispatcher said.

Ronald Barnes said the house, which the couple built in 1965, was fully insured and they will rebuild. He said they were staying with relatives for the time being.

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