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Police say methane gas caused Pa. house explosion

October 26, 2005|By RICHARD F. BELISLE and DON AINES

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

QUINCY, Pa. - A Pennsylvania State Police fire marshal said Tuesday his investigation and that of the company that insured a brick home at 8010 Mentzer Gap Road concluded the Oct. 6 explosion that destroyed the home was caused by a build-up of methane gas in the basement, but the manner in which it occurred is unknown.

"We can't pin that down," Trooper Jeffrey R. Sarver said of how the gas backed up into the basement.

The house had a vent pipe in the basement leading to two methane traps in the yard, Sarver said. The pipe was next to a water heater and there were two dehumidifiers in the basement.

Sarver said the action of any of those appliances switching on automatically "would be enough to ignite the methane in the basement."

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The brick rancher is owned by Ronald and Maxine Barnes. The couple was having breakfast in the kitchen shortly after 6:30 a.m. when the explosion occurred.

They first reported hearing a sound like a small explosion and then the larger explosion, which blew open the cellar door and sent a blue ball of fire down the hallway, Sarver said.

Maxine Barnes told Sarver she saw bricks and cinder blocks being blown off the back wall by the force of the blast, he said.

Ronald Barnes' hair was singed by the flames, but otherwise the couple was unhurt.

Two cats died in the fire.

The house was not served by natural gas or liquid propane. Quincy Township completed a new sewer system within the past year. The Barnes' home was hooked to it.

The color of the flame was indicative of a methane gas explosion and a witness driving by also reported seeing a blue flame when the blast occurred, Sarver said. No tests were conducted for methane residue, which tends to combust completely, but he said he was confident that was what fueled the explosion.

Sarver said carbon monoxide detectors can sometimes detect methane gas.

Other homes in the area were checked after the fire for methane gas, but none was found, David H. Witmer, Quincy Township manager, said at the time.

Witmer said Tuesday such occurrences are extremely rare.

"They are virtually unheard of," he said.

Sewer lines entering buildings have traps to prevent such explosions, he said. An investigation after the fire showed that the traps were still intact, he said.

The house, which has been condemned, has not been touched since the incident. Only the front walls, part of the roof and part of the two side walls are left.

Ronald Barnes said at the time of the fire that he and his wife planned to rebuild their house.

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