Could the Minneapolis Explosion and Fire Have Been Prevented?

Natural gas can be a relatively inexpensive and efficient heating fuel, but the dangers of explosion, fire, and carbon monoxide poisoning which can result in permanent injury or death are safety hazards which must be, and can be, prevented by homeowners and landlords.

Gas Explosion Suspected as Cause of Minneapolis Apartment Fire

Recently in Minneapolis, MN fourteen people were hurt, at least three critically, and two bodies discovered as a result of an explosion and fire that rocked a three-story apartment building in Minneapolis in early January 2014, forcing residents to jump from windows and flee to the streets into subzero temperatures.

By the time firefighters arrived, smoke and 20-foot flames were pouring out of the second and third stories of the building, and residents were jumping out of the windows.

Explosive devices have been ruled out by investigators.  Residents reported a natural gas odor shortly before the explosion, though some investigators deny any natural gas lines running in or near the building.  Other types of gas are also being considered as possible causes for the spark which caused the explosion.

It is horrible to think of all of these people in this mostly Somali neighborhood having to evacuate and lose their homes and possessions in sub-zero weather, reportedly as low as -4˚F with a -24˚F wind-chill, having to run out into ice and snow covered streets to attempt to gain safety for themselves and their children.  Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of this explosion; it is not yet known who or what was at fault.

West Virginia Natural Gas Fatal House Explosion

In October of 2013, a similarly tragic situation occurred in Follansbee, WV, a small town south of Weirton in Brooke County.  A family had recently purchased and was still moving into this home when an explosion likely caused by a natural gas leak obliterated this rural West Virginia home.  Tragically, this violent explosion killed their 13-year-old daughter and seriously injured three others.  The blast was so powerful it shook the entire neighborhood, blew out the windows of a nearby fire station, sent plywood siding rocketing nearly 50 feet into the air, and shot boards through other houses.  Three other houses were damaged – one knocked off its foundation.natural gas explosion in neighborhood

In addition to the fatality, the girl’s parents and a sister were injured and taken to hospitals.  An especially tragic aspect of this story is that half an hour before the explosion, a neighbor had called local authorities to report a possible gas leak.  The fire department responded, but found nothing.  Shortly after they left, the house exploded.

Investigators are trying to determine whether or not the gas leaked in the house from an outside source, or was a leak within the house.  Either way, when the gas reached a high enough concentration, even the most mundane action could have deadly consequences.  Once the concentration is high enough, all it takes is a pilot light or even a light switch being switched on to cause an explosion.

How can you prevent a natural gas explosion from happening in your home?

Explosions such as the ones in West Virginia and Minneapolis are rare, but I advise that homeowners and landlords have an approved maintenance worker check for leaks around stoves, furnaces, and hot water heaters.  Firefighters in every county in WV receive dozens of natural gas related calls each year from homeowners like you.

When purchasing an appliance, look for the UL markup to ensure it has met safety standards, and if you are purchasing a used item, have it checked by a knowledgeable professional.

If you do smell the “rotten egg scent” from the odorant added to natural gas, mercaptan, react quickly and shut off the source if possible, and call a professional or 9-1-1.  If the scent is strong, evacuate the house or building, get a safe distance from it, and call emergency help immediately.  Do not smoke, use a lighter or flashlight, cell phone, turn on a light switch, or use other electronic devices in or near the house.  If possible, turn off the gas from the outside of the home.

Wise homeowners can also install a gas detector to make sure your home and family doesn’t suffer the effects of a natural gas leak.

Homeowners should also have their furnace and water heater exhaust pipes checked regularly for safety to prevent backup and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Landlord’s Obligation for Safety of Rental Property

West Virginia landlords are required to maintain a leased property in a condition that meets requirements of applicable health, fire, and safety housing codes.

Sometimes a natural gas leak is caused in part by the negligence of a landlord, repair technician, or faulty piece of equipment. Landlords and professional service technicians are held to the highest standards of accountability for the safety of those they serve.

One of the problems that city and county building inspectors face is that many older buildings are not equipped with modern electrical and gas services and alarms throughout the buildings.   These older buildings were “grandfathered in” decades ago when stricter building codes were adopted.

This allows some landlords to do minimal repairs on their buildings, and never comply with current building and safety codes.   However, some cities and counties have required work permits on every kind of repair to certain buildings, and before the permit is granted, an inspection is done and the building is required to come up to code.

Some landlords skirt these requirements by doing the work themselves, under the radar of the city.   When they are caught doing the work without a permit, they risk having their building closed down.     No city or town can keep up on the status of every building.    When a tragedy does strike, there may be significant responsibility on the landlord, and perhaps the building inspectors, for allowing an unsafe building to be occupied.

That’s why you need knowledgeable and skilled lawyers to enforce the rules.   Remember, trial lawyers are for the public’s safety, we enforce the rules when others won’t.

Questions?  Call us today:  304-594-1800 or after hours, 304-216-6695.

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 Sources:

Silver, Jonathan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “West Virginia Girl Killed in Natural Gas Explosion,” October 11, 2013.

Forliti, Amy.  ABC News. “Body of Second Victim Found after Minneapolis Fire.”  January 3, 2014.

Protect Your Family This Christmas

Christmas candles burningDon’t let fire ruin your family Christmas.   Fire hazards greatly increase when decorating for the holidays; about one-third of home fires and home fire deaths occur during December, January and February.  Fire is an expense you can’t afford this Christmas, potentially costing irreplaceable lives and an average of $35,000 damage per house fire.

Main Causes of Fire Calamities include:  Connecting multiple extension cords together, putting up holiday lights without inspecting them for frayed cords, letting your tree dry out after it is decorated in the home, creosote buildup in chimney, and leaving a burning candle unattended.

Top Winter Fire Hazards:  

  • Cooking calamities. Keep an all-purpose or Class ABC rated fire extinguisher nearby to get a kitchen fire under control.
  • Space heaters: Avoid setting up a space heater too close to curtains, furniture or holiday decorations. Keep at least three feet of clear space around it and set it up on the floor.
  • Children playing with fire: Never leave children unsupervised with ignition materials such as matches or lighters.
  • Burn only wood in the fireplace: Trash, cardboard boxes or Christmas trees burn unevenly and may cause a dangerous flash fire.
  • Take care with candles: Make sure candles are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down. Never leave the house with candles burning.
  • Holiday lights: Inspect each year for frayed wires, bare spots or broken sockets before putting them up. Turn off holiday lights before leaving the home or going to bed.
  • Counterfeit electronics: Look for CSA or UL certification marks that indicate the product was tested and met the product safety standards.
  • Electrical outlets: Don’t overload your electrical outlets with too many lights or decorations.
  • Electrical cords: Never bundle electric cords together or run under rugs or carpet.
  • Christmas trees: Needles on fresh trees should be green and hard to pull back from the branches. Regularly give the tree plenty of water.
  • Dirty chimney: Most chimney fires are caused by the buildup of creosote, a highly combustible byproduct of burning wood. Have it inspected and cleaned annually.
  • Dirty fireplace: Put embers in a metal container and set them outside to cool for 24 hours before disposal.

Wishing you a safe and Merry Christmas from the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Injury Lawyers. Free books for WV accident victims — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care: WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters: WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families.  We are glad to answer your questions.

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Major Gas Line Explosion along I-77

I-77 Sissonville gas line explosion

On Tuesday, December 11, 2012 a major gas line explosion along I-77 near Sissonville, WV ignited homes in a nearby residential area and shut down all four lanes of traffic.  The flames were so hot under I-77 that it melted the concrete. There have been no reported fatalities.  Thanks to the DOT employees who worked all night,  Interstate 77 has been reopened.  Flames were shooting up to 75 high as crews shut off the gas supply.  Commissioner Kent Carper reports fire was extinguished shortly before 2:00 p.m., but heavy odor of gas is thick in the air near the area of the explosion.

Columbia Gas confirmed that one of its transmission lines was the source of the blast. Columbia Gas employees and first responders are working to assess the situation and accommodate the residents. Columbia Gas is still working to determine the cause of the explosion.

Patients in a nearby nursing home not far from the area have been declared to be safe, but it is not known if anyone has been injured by the explosion. Authorities were worried about the possibility of another explosion, and were evacuating nearby residents.

“In all my years of experience, this is the biggest fire I’ve ever seen,” said Kanawha County Fire Coordinator C.W. Sigman.

Sigman said a 20-inch gas transmission line ruptured, sending a massive sheet of flames shooting skyward.

Sigman said several homes were burned, but emergency officials were still trying to determine if there were any injuries or fatalities. Emergency crews rescued several people who sought shelter behind the burning homes, he said.  A total of four homes were destroyed and five more were damaged by the blaze.

Sigman said the flames were so hot under I-77 that it melted the concrete. Guardrails melted, utility poles burned, an ordinarily reflective green interstate sign was burned down to white metal and the blast blew a huge hole in the road, throwing dirt, rocks and debris across the interstate. Four lanes are gone.  It was remarkable that no motorists were injured.

The explosion happened just before 1 p.m., and the immediate fire reportedly crossed the interstate itself. A photo taken by Kanawha County Emergency Services shows stories-tall flames covering both northbound and southbound lanes of the interstate.

Metro 911 reported several buildings caught fire. Crews apparently extinguished the fire just before 2 p.m. but a large amount of fumes remained in the air, said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.

State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous said around 2:45 p.m. that there was no word on injuries or fatalities related to the explosion and following fire. Paramedics and emergency responders are going into homes and apartments now to check on residents, he said.

Emergency responders’ biggest concern is the possibility of a secondary explosion. Residents living in the vicinity are being asked to ready their things to evacuate.

SISSONVILLE, W.Va. – A gas line explosion this afternoon in Sissonville caused a massive fire that burned several buildings, melted part of Interstate 77 and sent huge flames into the sky.

Authorities were worried about the possibility of another explosion, and were evacuating nearby residents.

“In all my years of experience, this is the biggest fire I’ve ever seen,” said Kanawha County Fire Coordinator C.W. Sigman.

Sigman said a 20-inch gas transmission line ruptured, sending a massive sheet of flames shooting skyward.

Sigman said several homes were burned, but emergency officials were still trying to determine if there were any injuries or fatalities. Emergency crews rescued several people who sought shelter behind the burning homes, he said.

Sigman said The explosion happened just before 1 p.m., and the immediate fire reportedly crossed the interstate itself. A photo taken by Kanawha County Emergency Services shows stories-tall flames covering both northbound and southbound lanes of the interstate.

Metro 911 reported several buildings caught fire. Crews apparently extinguished the fire just before 2 p.m. but a large amount of fumes remained in the air, said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper.

State Police Sgt. Michael Baylous said around 2:45 p.m. that there was no word on injuries or fatalities related to the explosion and following fire. Paramedics and emergency responders are going into homes and apartments now to check on residents, he said.

Emergency responders’ biggest concern is the possibility of a secondary explosion. Residents living in the vicinity are being asked to ready their things to evacuate.

Baylous did not know the exact location where the explosion occurred but it’s near where Derricks Creek Road meets W.Va. 21, he said.

Two KRT buses were at Sissonville High School ready to evacuate people at 3 p.m. Several other buses were on standby.

Several people were transported from the scene for smoke inhalation-related injuries, Metro 911 dispatchers said. Some were being treated at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Sissonville, where an emergency shelter was in established.

Gas company crews were working to turn gas pipelines off, according to Kanawha County Emergency Management officials. Gas crews had shut off one side of the gas pipe by 1:30 p.m.

Residents in the area were asked to shelter in place, according to Kanawha County Metro 911.

Kanawha County Schools sent out an automatic notification that students and others at Flinn Elementary, Sissonville Elementary, Sissonville Middle and Sissonville High schools will shelter in place until roads reopen. Once the roads have reopened, the students will be taken home, according to the message.

Students at Sissonville High School were sheltering in the gym just before 3 p.m.

W.Va. 21 was closed except for emergency vehicle traffic.

Source:  WV Charleston Gazette

Submitted by the Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, West Virginia Workplace Injury/Wrongful Death Lawyers. Free books — Call us today: 304-216-6695 or 304-594-1800 for your free copy of Righting the Wrong: WV Serious Injury Guide; Collision Care: WV Auto Injury Guide; or Beside Still Waters: WV Fatal Injury Guide for Families.

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Charleston Rental House Fire Kills Two Adults and Seven Children

Early Saturday, a quick-burning fire in a rental house caused the deaths of nine people, two adults and seven children.  This was one of the most horrific fires in the history of Charleston.  All of the victims likely died of smoke inhalation.

According to West Virginia MetroNews, Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and investigators say the fire moved quickly through the house on Arlington Ave. putting out a lot of smoke. Fire investigators were back at the house on Sunday working to determine the cause of the blaze. The investigation will continue on Monday.

A child, who initially survived the fire, died Sunday at a Charleston hospital when he was taken off life support. His death brings the death toll to nine.  All of the children were no older than eight years old.

Alisha Carter-Camp, also known as Lisa Carter, perished in the blaze at a two story house she rented with her sister Latasha Jones Isabell, 24, on Arlington Avenue in Charleston.

Isabell says she was outside smoking a cigarette at just after 3 a.m. Saturday morning when she noticed the blaze and ran to a neighbor’s house for help.

The fire killed Carter-Camp, her children, Keahna Camp, 8, and Jeremiah Camp, 3. It’s believed they were sleeping upstairs in the house. Another son, Bryan Timothy Camp, 7, was pulled out of the home by firefighters but died Sunday morning.

The blaze also killed Alex Seal, and his twin daughters, Kiki and Gigi, both 3.

Isabell’s two sons also were killed. They are identified as Elijah Scott, 3, and Emanuel Jones, 3.

“When the units came on the scene there was already a fire here. We had one adult female on the outside (Isabell) telling us there were people inside,” Charleston Assistant Fire Chief Bob Sharp said.

The first city fire crews were on the scene within two minutes, but the house was already full of flames and heavy smoke.

Arson Not Suspected in Charleston Fire:

Arson is not primarily suspected as a cause of this fire.  “We haven’t ruled it out. It doesn’t appear to be that way, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not,” Charleston Fire Dept. Lt. Ken Tyree said this weekend.

Sometimes the destruction caused by the flames makes it more difficult for investigators to find out how a particular fire began, but Lt. Tyree says he doesn’t believe that will be the case with this fire.

“It was a fast-burning fire. There’s a lot still intact so we feel confident we’ll be able to do well in the aspect of having an origin and hopefully a cause,” Tyree said.

The fire dept. was getting assistance from the state Fire Marshal’s Office and ATF. A specially trained dog was due on the scene Saturday evening.

Only One Smoke Detector in Rental House:

There were only two smoke detectors in the house. One was reportedly improperly installed under a cabinet and the other was not working.

A building inspector with the City of Charleston planned to inspect the house less than a month ago.

Mayor Danny Jones says the inspection was scheduled for Feb. 28 as part of routine inspections the office does at rental units. He says the inspector had permission from the owner of the Arlington Ave. house, Delores Shamblin. He says Alisha Carter-Camp, one of the adults who lived there, knew about it, but it didn’t happen.

“Had we been able to get in that day and had we seen the fact that they did not have the proper number of smoke detectors, we might have saved a lot of lives,” Jones said.

A criminal investigation is underway.  Landlords have a legal and moral duty to their tenants to maintain a safe living environment in their rental homes.  City code requires rentals to have smoke detectors in every bedroom and in hallways close to bedrooms.

Morgantown Residents Take Note:

Morgantown residents and students need to take note of the horrific destruction and loss of life that can result from fire.  Morgantown police and fire departments reported over 35 intentionally-set street and dumpster fires over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, and three additional fires set last week.  As we see in the case of the Charleston house fire, just one out-of-control fire can cause unimaginable destruction and devastation.

Lt. Tyree of the Charleston Fire Department says there’s a tragic lesson to be learned from the blaze in Charleston. He says residents need to do all they can to prevent a fire.

For more information regarding this fire, please visit http://www.wvmetronews.com.  For information regarding another tragic Charleston wrongful death incident that could have been avoided through use of working detectors, see our previous blog about the carbon monoxide deaths at a Charleston hotel.