Thursday, April 27, 2017

Vacant home explodes in St. Louis, MO


An explosion in a vacant home that rocked the Baden neighborhood Wednesday injured no one on the street, despite the shards of glass, window casings and chunks of rubble sent flying at a normally busy time of day, a fire captain said.

“It’s miraculous for 8:30 in the morning, not to have any injuries, no one walking by,” said Capt. Garon Mosby of the St. Louis Fire Department. “It’s a good day for us.”

The brick bungalow in the 8600 block of Oriole Avenue was flattened. The cause of the blast is under investigation, but the leading theory is that it was a gas explosion.

Firefighters believe the home had been vacant, and a search by the St. Louis Fire Department’s Collapse Rescue Task Force found no evidence that anyone had been hurt. Mosby said the task force used a sensitive listening device that could detect the faintest of movements and sounds.

Crews worried about a potential gas leak evacuated neighbors on the block. Firefighters first to arrive were unable to shut off the gas at the curb, so they dug through the rubble to turn it off from inside the leveled home.

The brick homes on either side sustained moderate damage, including a few blown-out windows. Part of the roof of the home that exploded fell onto the roofs of the adjacent homes. One of those adjacent homes was occupied at the time of the explosion, Mosby said.

Debris was blown as far as across the street.

David West lives eight or nine houses away. “I heard it and felt it,” West said of the explosion. “It was like North Korea had dropped a bomb on us.”

West thought something had happened to his own home, so he scrambled into the attic, fully expecting to see something caved in. Then, he looked outside and saw a neighbor pointing up the alley. West said he then went up the street and saw neighbors approach the debris, trying to see if anyone was trapped.

West said he didn’t smell anything that might signal a natural gas leak as he got close. He said the home had been undergoing rehab.

Mosby said the fire department, the St. Louis Regional Bomb and Arson Squad and Laclede Gas all were investigating the blast.

But he said investigators were looking at a gas explosion as a likely culprit.

“It’s not really the fault of the gas company,” Mosby said. “We have a vacant-structure challenge in the city. This could be a gas leak or ... people take pipes, and if somebody takes a pipe and it’s gas piping, that could lead to issues as well.”

Mosby said the fire department gets calls frequently for gas leaks due to missing pipes.

The theory is that someone could have broken into the home and stolen a pipe to sell as scrap metal. Mosby urged city residents to report anything suspicious in their neighborhoods, such as someone going in and out of a vacant home. He said he had heard of no reports of such crimes on Oriole.