NJ:Officials probe cause of Flemington gas explosion fire

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NJ:Officials probe cause of Flemington gas explosion fire 01/24/00

Investigators and officials with Elizabethtown Gas Co. are unsure what caused the gas explosion that tore through a former antiques store in Flemington on Saturday and injured the fire chief and a police officer. Chief Charlie Smith, 50, and Patrolman George Becker, 35, remained hospitalized yesterday. Smith was in stable condition at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa., after suffering second-degree burns to his face, hands and limbs. Becker, who sustained second- and third-degree burns to his face, head, hands, limbs and buttocks, was in critical condition at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston. "We're going to do a cause-and-origin examination," said Hunterdon County Prosecutor Stephen Rubin. "We don't have any more information at this point." An odor of natural gas was reported shortly before the explosion. Smith and Becker were in the house investigating the smell when the blast occurred. "We got the call from the Flemington Fire Department at 2:55 in the afternoon reporting the gas smell," said Chris Reardon, a spokesman for Elizabethtown Gas Co. "We arrived at the scene 3:05 p.m. Between 2:55 and 3:05 there was an explosion." By yesterday afternoon, the gas company had determined that the blast was not caused by a fault in the main beneath Church Street, Reardon said. Additional tests need to be conducted on the lines that lead to the building but that cannot be done until the investigators conclude their work. That will not happen until sometime during the week, Rubin said. In addition to the street main and lines that lead to the building, it is possible that the explosion was caused by the piping inside the building, Reardon said. Those pipes are not the responsibility of the gas company, he said.

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-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), January 24, 2000

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