Fire marshal: House explosion caused by propaneA deputy state fire marshal determined that leaking propane gas ignited by a water pump switch going on caused the explosion that destroyed a house Monday north of Larimore, N.D., killing an infant and injuring a man and woman.
By: By Stephen J. Lee , Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
A deputy state fire marshal determined that leaking propane gas ignited by a water pump switch going on caused the explosion that destroyed a house Monday north of Larimore, N.D., killing an infant and injuring a man and woman.
Jerry McCarty, a longtime deputy state fire marshal who works out of Grafton, N.D., was on the scene of the blast most of Tuesday. Late Tuesday afternoon, a backhoe began digging out debris from the basement to aid McCarty’s investigation.
On Wednesday, Grand Forks County Sheriff Bob Rost announced McCarty’s finding. His investigation “indicates that propane was the fuel and the water pressure pump being activated in the basement was the presumed ignition,” Rost said in a news release.
McCarty referred all comments to Rost’s office.
That is what neighbors and others with knowledge of the investigation told the Herald on Tuesday.
Justin McMahon, 23, and Danielle Bissell, 22, started renting the older, two-story house two miles east of McCanna, N.D., nearly a year ago. They were injured seriously in the blast. Bissell’s daughter, Samantha Bissell, 6 months old, was found lifeless at the scene after the blast.
McMahon and Bissell were transported Tuesday to hospitals in Minneapolis and St. Paul, respectively, a nursing supervisor at Altru Hospital said.
It happened shortly before 8 p.m. Monday on the farmstead which is nine miles northwest of Larimore, or about 35 miles west and north of Grand Forks.
McMahon told people he and Bissell smelled propane gas in the house Monday. She took the baby out while he checked on things. He said his last memory before the blast was hearing the water pump in the basement switch on.
The house had a hot water heater that used propane, as well as a furnace, investigators said.
The entire house was blasted apart by the explosion, with no walls left standing and contents spread 40 yards or more in three directions. Danielle and Samantha Bissell were thrown some distance from the house by the explosion.
Mutch Gas in Larimore delivered propane Monday to the house, filling the tank that sits about 15 yards from the house, Rost said.
The operating theory of investigators is that the pilot light in the hot water heater had gone off because of lack of gas pressure when the propane tank went empty, Rost said. When the tank was filled, gas then apparently leaked in the basement because the pilot light was off.
When the water pump switched on in the basement, that provided enough of a spark to ignite the gas.
“Something failed,” Rost said. “Most appliances have a safety device so if there is not a pilot light ignited, it won’t allow gas to flow.”
The house is owned by a former Larimore woman who lived in it for several years and now lives in Chaska, Minn., Rost said.
Stephen J. Lee is a reporter
at the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.