This expert had a case which concerned a large house that was nearly completed, and ready for delivery (within ten days or less), when it suffered a severe propane explosion (Insurance later ruled the house as a total loss).

A local propane gas company retained this expert's services to perform an O&C concerning this explosion and fire.

After examining the site and conditions, and based on the physical evidence as to the conditions of the afore stated missing riser pipe, and the presence on the remaining and intact 90 deg elbow, this expert was able to determine that the Client (N. Gas) had in no way contributed to or were responsible for this loss event, and that the explosion and subsequent fire had been as a result of several separate factors (the missing gas riser pipe at time of explosion), (the turning on of the gas in the house by the carpet crew when the house reducer valve was tagged as "off", waiting final occupancy inspection.

Following are some of the details of the case, as described by this consultant :

Background

The Explosion Fire Loss building is a two story (above grade) dwelling with a full basement. The explosion and resultant fire occurred on the 12th of (month) this year. There were workmen in the dwelling installing carpet and they were in the building when the event occurred.

Scope of Service

This consultant was requested to :

  • Inspect the loss location
  • Determine the origin and cause of the fire
  • Provide an initial oral report
  • Provide a written report of my findings

Property Description

The loss property is a single-family dwelling, two stories out of grade and with a full basement; it is a partial brick veneer with siding. The unit was very near (with in 10days of) completion.

Inspection

On arrival at the site, this expert encountered and identified self to a security guard. This expert walked around the outside of the orange fence and safety tape to view the building. On the south side, the expert noted the location of the buried LPG tank and dome lid, and the reduction regulator on the side of the house, as well as the blown out wall at the foundation, and the burned portion at the framing / concrete basement line. The expert then walked to the East side (back of the house) and noted the evidence of fire at the kitchen section, and that the two story section clear story wall that had been blown out and lay on the ground some 50 plus feet away from the dwelling. Said expert then walked to the North side of the house and noted the bulge and missing brick at the glassed in room, it was detached from the foundation along the north edge. The expert then walked to the west side (Front) and noted some damage but not as severe as the other three sides. At approximately 9:00 AM Mr. F. arrived, as did Mr. D (Fire Marshal), and a host of other claims people and insurance investigators.

After a brief introduction of the insurance companies and legal firms, we were then invited to enter the loss building for the purpose of investigation and tagging of any evidence we wanted retained. During the course of walking thru the site, this expert noted that the bulk of the fire was mainly located in the kitchen area, and more especially at the center of the room at what would have been the location of the stovetop island. The fire had burned part of the sub floor and then on out to the eastern rear side of the kitchen, however the Fire Dept had contained the fire before it spread out much farther. There was a gaping hole in the floor at the island location. Expert then walked through the rest of the 1st floor and noted that large areas of the hardwood floors had risen up sharply in the western side of the house (1 to 3 ft). This expert then walked down into the basement to look at the situation under the kitchen floor. Here, said expert noticed a number of damaged round and square heat ducts, several pieces of the round duct wear blown apart so far as to be almost flat across in stead of cylindrical. The larger trunk lines exhibited signs of explosive stress and deformation. The expert followed the trunk lines to the furnace where I noted the damage to furnace sheet metal (bonnet) as well as the plenum, as well as some melted plastic in the furnace. Expert then walked thru the other rooms of the whole basement and noted the total melting of the venial flex duct thru out the underside of the 1st floor as well as other assorted metal duct's that were ruptured, or in various states of disconnection (blown apart) from one another. Expert subject then entered the utility section of the basement area where expert saw the gas line piping for the stovetop island, it was noted that there was no "riser" pipe leading up to the island in the kitchen, only the presence of a open end 90 deg bend. Expert went back upstairs and looked down on this 90 deg bend and could see that the pipe threads were sound and in tact. At that time another team, which had collected evidence at the time of the event placed the pieces on the kitchen floor for viewing. Among the pieces was the piece of missing gas pipe, which had a cut off valve still attached (the valve was in the open position) the (plastic) handle for the valve was missing. This expert noted that the pipe threads at the end of the pipe were sound and in tact, and thus did not indicate any evidence that this pipe may have been blown off. Mr. F. had the job superintendent and his crew lay out the saved pieces of island cabinet for our viewing. A review of the cabinet remains did not reveal much more than that it hard been in a fire, and was partially burned as a result.

This expert also noted upon arrival that there was a set of three portable propane tanks outside of the front of the house, and that there was one tank still inside, in the dinning room. Expert examined all four tanks and as well as the two heater units and their respective hose lines and regulators, none of which exhibited or shown any signs of having been involved in a fire / explosions.

This expert spoke with a Mr. T. of the Fire Marshal's office, who referred expert to a Mr. D. who was assigned this case. Conversation with Mr. D did not reveal much in the way of evidence, as he had not been to the scene as yet.

The expert then met with a Mr. T. J. and Mr. J. Mc. both of N. Gas. They described to expert the process and sequence of the tank and regulator installation (after the plumbing inspection for the interior is complete) as well as the permitting and inspection process for the County. Mr. J. had copies of all the inspection's and approvals in his files.

The expert then spoke with Mr. J. F., and requested that certain pieces of ductwork as well as the furnace assembly be saved and stored in a secure location as evidence. Additionally, the expert requested that the stovetop unit and all of the related gas pipe to also be retained and stored as above.

Expert Analysis

After careful consideration with regards to a systematic approach using the scientific method and deductive reasoning in determining the origin and cause of this explosion and fire, this expert concludes :

  • The propane gas was allowed to enter the basement and the ductwork buy the absence of the piece of pipe from the 90 deg elbow and up thru the floor to the cabinet base above.
  • That person, or persons unknown removed the subject pipe for purposes unknown
  • That person, or persons unknown turned on the gas at the exterior regulator for the purpose of using the furnace to heat the interior of the house.
  • That when the furnace (thermostat cycle) called for heat, that the igniter in the furnace came on and ignition of the propane, which was accumulating in the ductwork and other areas, was instantaneously ignited which resulted in the blast, and subsequent detachment of house walls from the basement wall, as well as blown windows and an ensuing fire.
  • When and if it is received, this expert will forward a copy of the official fire investigation by the N. County Fire Marshal's office.
  • When and if they are received, this expert will forward copies of the plumbing inspection reports from N. Gases,
  • There was moderate to severe damage to the building as would be expected with this sort of explosion.
  • This expert does not believe that the normal course of action as exhibited and presented by N. Gas Inc, has in anyway contributed to this incident.



To see the resume of the expert associated with this case study, see the link below.

Resume of MKV Fire Safety, Explosion Investigator, Commercial, Residential Construction Expert Consultant Resume

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