Flint Michigan: Fire Chief Says Cause of November's Nursing Home Explosion May Never Be Known; Five Residents Died, 32 Injured

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It was initially believed that a gas leak caused this explosion. Intriguing story in light of the many recent gas explosions and leaks.

Fire Chief Says Cause of Nursing Home Explosion May Never Be Known; Five Residents Died, 32 Injured

Flint, MI, United States 11/10/1999- 8:55 PM Information Added: Tuesday, February 1, 2000 - 11:40 PM ----- Flint Fire Chief Theron Wiggins said his investigation will remain open, but he told the Flint Journal last Friday that he doesn't think the city will determine what caused the explosion unless new information comes to light.

Two key players in the investigation --- the agencies doing most of the testing of evidence from the blast --- pulled out of the probe two weeks ago.

The NTSB announced its withdrawal from the investigation Jan. 14 after saying its investigators could find no pre-existing conditions linking the blast to gas lines leading to the nursing home.

On Jan. 12, the state's Department of Consumer and Industry Services said its probe of three boilers in the nursing hme's basement showed boilers were intact and not likely to be the cause.

That leaves the Flint Fire Department and the state fire marshal's office as the only active participants in the investigation.

----- Information Added: Tuesday, November 16, 1999 - 6:24 PM ----- The investigation is now centering on a natural gas explosion, NOT a boiler explosion as first believed.

A nurse who was on duty at the home when it exploded told investigators she smelled gas in the west win a few hours before the explosion, but that nothing was found.

Early indications point away from the possibility that the boilers exploded or caused the explosion, according to Fire Capt. Walter Davis.

Davis said investigators need to look at fire patterns in the basement. The extent of blast damage could prevent officials from doing that until the end of the week, he said.

Four investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board have flown in from Washington, D.C. to assist in the probe.

NTSB spokesman Phil Frame said "four people from our office is a significant number of people".

Investigators have retrieved parts of the piping system that provided gas to the nursing home and found some corrosion on one valve, Frame said.

He said the parts will be sent to the NTSB lab in Washington for analysis. "Until we do that, we won't know whether the system had anything to do with the cause of the explosion," he said.

Frame said corrosion is the second leading cause of pipeline accidents. The most frequent cause is excavation damage.

The state Police Fire Marshal's Office and the state Department of Consumer and Industry Services (DCIS) also are assisting Flint Fire investigators with the probe.

Consumer Energy officials determined Friday that there weren't any leaks in the gas lines from the road leading to the building, but other independent investigators have not reached that conclusion yet, DCIS said.

----- Information Added: Thursday, November 11, 1999 - 2:48 PM ----- A boiler explosion in the Clara Barton Convalescence Center here killed at least five people and injured more than twenty. Two more people were missing and feared dead.

The boiler explosion blew out windows and collapsed the ceiling. The victims and those still missing are believed to be employees.

The explosion blew out one side of the home, built in 1964. Some witnesses reported smelling natural gas after the blast, but the exact cause of the explosion has not been determined.

Confined space rescue teams were brought in to search the twisted remains of the nursing home.

Clara Barton was the only nursing home in Genesee County to receive a designation of "much worse than the norm" by the state Department of Consumer and Industry Inspections based on inspections in 1997 and 1998, the Flint Journal reported.


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), February 04, 2000

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