The Aug. 10 explosion in Northwest Baltimore that killed two people, injured seven and reduced three rowhomes to rubble was due to a “large natural gas buildup” ignited by a stove, city officials said Tuesday morning.
“Based on the investigation and evidence, it appears as though a stove was turned on, which provided the ignition source” at 4232 Labyrinth Rd, Fire Chief Niles Ford said.
He said a licensed contractor did HVAC work at the address the day before the explosion, but investigators did not find proper permits for their work.
“We weren't able to receive extensive particular information on all the repairs that were done,” Ford said. He declined to name the contractor.
Ford also said that investigators were able to identify four gas meters associated with the address. Baltimore Gas and Electric records showed a spike in natural gas usage in those meters between 1:30 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. the morning of the incident, which occurred at 9:54 a.m.
The response and subsequent investigation of the incident was a multi-agency effort; Baltimore City’s Special Operations Team, police department, crime lab, housing department and Office of Emergency Management were aided by the Baltimore County Fire Department, Howard County Fire and Rescue Canine Unit, the American Red Cross the State Fire Marshal's Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Ford said investigators used an origin and cause approach to the investigation, meaning they worked from the least to most damaged areas around the explosion site.
The explosion killed Joseph Graham, 20, and Lonnie Barrow, 61. Dozens of homes received extensive damage that homeowners are still dealing with.
Mayor Brandon Scott said OEM has been working with families since day one.
“You have to also remember that these are privately owned homes,” the Democrat said. “They have insurance. They have to deal with their insurance companies.”
Ford said he could not answer a question about whether BGE was engaging in any financial settlements with residents.
Scott said officials are still investigating the cause of a Dec. 23 gas explosion that injured 21 people at BGE's downtown office.
Linda Foy, a spokeswoman for BGE, said the company's gas systems were functioning properly on the day of the explosion.
"Equipment beyond the meter – including natural gas appliances – are the responsibility of the customer," Foy said. "This incident is a very tragic reminder of the importance of natural gas safety. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families who lost loved ones and others affected by this incident."
Customers should ensure their gas appliances and piping are routinely inspected and properly maintained by licensed plumbers and appliance technicians and that they have the appropriate permits for the work, she said.