In October of 2013, a tragic situation occurred in Follansbee, WV, a small town south of Weirton in Brooke County. An explosion likely caused by a natural gas leak that obliterated a rural West Virginia house and killed a 13-year-old girl was so powerful it shook the entire neighborhood, blew out the windows of a nearby fire station, sent plywood siding rocketing nearly 50 feet into the air and shot boards through other houses. Three other houses were damaged – one knocked off its foundation.
In addition to the fatality, the girl’s parents and a sister were injured and taken to hospitals. An especially tragic aspect of this story is that half an hour before the explosion, a neighbor had called local authorities to report a possible gas leak. The fire department responded but found nothing. Shortly after they left, the house exploded.
Investigators are trying to determine whether or not the gas leaked in the house from an outside source, or was a leak within the house. Either way, when the gas reached a high enough concentration, even the most mundane action could have deadly consequences. Once the concentration is high enough, all it takes is a pilot light or even a light switch being switched on to cause an explosion.
This horribly unfortunate family had every reason to believe their new home was safe, and at this time, it is not known what was the cause of this tragedy. Their lives were forever changed, and the job now is to continue on and pick up the broken pieces.
How can you prevent a natural gas explosion from happening in your home?
Explosions such as the ones in West Virginia and the recent Minneapolis apartment explosions are rare, but I advise that homeowners and landlords have an approved maintenance worker check for leaks around stoves, furnaces, and hot water heaters. Firefighters in every county in WV receive dozens of natural gas-related calls each year from homeowners like you.
When purchasing a home, an inspection by an experienced and trusted professional is imperative. When purchasing an appliance, look for the UL markup to ensure it has met safety standards, and if you are purchasing a used item, have it checked by a knowledgeable professional.
If you do smell the “rotten egg scent” from the odorant added to natural gas, mercaptan, react quickly and shut off the source if possible, and call a professional or 9-1-1. If the scent is strong, evacuate the house or building, get a safe distance from it, and call emergency help immediately. Do not smoke, use a lighter or flashlight, or cell phone, turn on a light switch, or use other electronic devices in or near the house. If possible, turn off the gas from the outside of the home.
Wise homeowners can also install a gas detector to make sure your home and family don’t suffer the effects of a natural gas leak.
Homeowners should also have their furnace and water heater exhaust pipes checked regularly for safety to prevent backup and carbon monoxide poisoning.
If you live in a rental property, remind your landlord that West Virginia landlords are required to maintain a leased property in a condition that meets the requirements of applicable health, fire, and safety housing codes.
Sometimes a natural gas leak is caused in part by the negligence of a landlord, repair technician, or faulty piece of equipment. Landlords and professional service technicians are held to the highest standards of accountability for the safety of those they serve.
Questions? Call today: 304-594-1800 or after hours, 304-216-6695.
Silver, Jonathan, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “West Virginia Girl Killed in Natural Gas Explosion,” October 11, 2013.
Jeffery Robinette was admitted to practice law in 1991 and is licensed in all levels of state and federal trial courts in West Virginia. Mr. Robinette is also licensed in all state and federal appeals courts in West Virginia and the United States Supreme Court. As a National Board Certified Trial Attorney who has handled hundreds of motor vehicle, injury, and construction defect claims and a leading author on insurance claims settlement issues and difficulties in West Virginia, Jeff Robinette is uniquely qualified to represent your best interest.