ALBANY — The cause of a house explosion that left three buildings on West Main Street in Little Falls a total loss and several families homeless has been determined accidental, according to a report filed in July by the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
State fire officials stated in the report’s conclusion that during the investigation into the explosion and subsequent fire on Feb. 14, the team came up with "several hypotheses" based on the evidence.
Each hypothesis is tested until one is "found to be uniquely consistent with the facts and the principles of science," according to the report.
"The final hypothesis selected indicated that the epicenter of the explosion was located in the front section of the basement of 383 W. Main St.," according to the report. "The fire investigation team was able to determine that the explosion and subsequent fire ignited as a result of natural gas leaking into the basement and making contact with an open flame. The subsequent fire spread through natural means to further damage the remaining components of that structure and those located at 387 and 389 W. Main St. as well."
The report states that city fire and police units were dispatched to 383 W. Main St. at approximately 2:07 p.m. Feb. 14.
"First arriving fire units found the structure at 383 W. Main St. completely removed from its foundation. The structure at 387 W. Main St. [was] fully involved with fire and fire was spreading to 389 W. Main St.," according to the report.
An "aggressive attack" was launched by the responding fire crews "and were able to control the fire from spreading to other structures," according to the report.
The report determines that the origin of the explosion occurred "within the front section of the basement of the structure at 383 W. Main St." It also observed by the fire investigation team that the building had "significant damage to all of the contents."
"The contents of the upper floors were thrown out and away from the building’s foundation," according to the report. "As they examined the content of the basement area, investigators observed relevant damage to a natural gas fire furnace and a natural gas fired water heater. The fire damage to each was substantial, however, the damage to the furnace was more pronounced than was observed to that of the water heater."
The report states that the "team could not eliminate naturally occurring open flames from the furnace or water heater as a potential ignition source … These open flames would have the potential to ignite fugitive natural gas built up in the basement of 383 W. Main St."
Witness statements in the report included a resident not smelling any natural gas on the day of the incident, but did smell something a few days prior while on the front porch. The resident also stated that someone from National Grid or Premier Utility Locating Services checked for a gas leak in the basement about two weeks prior. About two years before that, the resident stated that National Grid replaced the gas meter in the basement because it was leaking.
A witness walking by the home on the day of the incident stated that he was heading west on West Main Street at about 1:10 p.m., and smelled a "heavy odor of natural gas" in the area where the explosion occurred, approximately an hour before the incident.
Other parts of the report determine that no accelerant was detected at the site based on a canine search, and no smoking materials or chemical agents were discovered. It also stated that investigators believe weather didn’t contribute to the explosion, as there was no lightning reported at the time.
No serious injuries or fatalities were sustained as a result of the explosion and fire, according to the report. Three minor injuries were reported to the media in covering the explosion. None of the residents were home at the time.
Residents throughout the city reported feeling the explosion at the time it occurred.
The American Red Cross helped those families displaced by the fire at the time. The victims received shelter at the Travelodge Inn and Suites and McDonald’s, along with local churches and community organizations, provided direct assistance to the families.