Fire Officials Reveal Likely Cause Of Pennsylvania House Explosion That Killed Six

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional details regarding the death toll and the ongoing investigation.  

Fire officials in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, revealed the likely cause behind a massive explosion that destroyed multiple homes in mid-August and caused a total of six deaths.

“The Fire Marshal’s Office can confirm that it is aware that the homeowners at 141 Rustic Ridge Drive were having hot water tank issues,” the Allegheny County Fire Marshal’s Office (ACFM) said in a news release Tuesday. “The tank was located in the basement of the home. ACFM will investigate that information along with any and all other possibilities during their processes that may explain what occurred.”

Fire officials were called to the area Aug. 12 after a massive explosion at 141 Rustic Ridge damaged neighboring homes and set them on fire. The scope of the damage and the fire required the assistance of 18 different fire departments and officials from both Allegheny and Westmoreland counties. (RELATED: ‘Looks Like A War Zone’: House Explosion Kills 5, Injures Several Others)

The Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner (ACOME) identified the five victims as Heather Oravitz, 51; Borough Manager Michael Thomas, 57; Casey Clontz, 38, Keegan Clontz, 12; and Kevin Sebunia, 55.

A sixth victim, Paul Oravitz, 56, succumbed to his injuries Wednesday night after sustaining burns all over his body, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Pennsylvania’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) announced that pipeline safety engineers from its Safety Division were investigating the incident. Though the home was having hot water tank issues, investigators are trying to determine whether public utility infrastructure or operations contributed to the explosion and whether there were any violations of state or federal pipeline safety regulations, TribLive reported.

“The Safety Division has been monitoring integrity tests of nearby public utility natural gas service lines by crews from Peoples Gas; conducting detailed interviews with utility employees, first responders and residents; and coordinating the collection of physical jurisdictional evidence at the scene — including natural gas service lines and meters,” the PUC said in a statement.

The neighborhood development is situated on an abandoned mine land surrounded by shallow oil and gas wells, some of which have been abandoned, the AP reported. Though two wells that are still producing gas are within about 1000 feet (305 meters) of the explosion site and a pipeline runs behind the development, neither of those factors have been identified as having contributed to the blast, according to the outlet.

Following the explosion in Plum, two natural gas leaks were discovered in another neighborhood in the borough, according to a separate report from TribLive. Both leaks have since been repaired.