Investigators wait to probe gas stove in fatal explosion

October 03, 1990|By Sheridan Lyons

Investigators seeking to pinpoint the cause of a natural gas explosion Monday that killed an elderly Irvington woman focused their attention yesterday on the gas stove that was found on top of her when rescue workers dug her body from the rubble.

hTC "The stove is what we're interested in," said John A. Metzger, a spokesman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

But investigators from both the utility and the Fire Department said the mound of debris that was once a two-story, brick row house at 321 Martingale Ave. was too unsteady for them to work in safely until some of the rubble was removed or shored up.

The blast that killed Marian Wilderson, 85, also injured two other residents of the quiet neighborhood and scattered debris over a block away. Moments before the explosion, neighbors had called the utility to report a strong odor of gas in the area.

"All we're saying is that it was an accumulation of natural gas from an unknown source," said Capt. Patrick P. Flynn, a Fire Department spokesman.

"From all indications, she must have turned something on and didn't light it -- and then all it takes is a spark, a light, even a refrigerator turning on."

This appliance was most likely the stove, they said, because when rescuers arrived at the scene Monday, they had to pull the body of Mrs. Wilderson from beneath the stove.

Gas from the stove could have filled the house, they said, and the gas could have been ignited by a spark from any number of things: a light switch, a ringing telephone, a refrigerator or thermostat.

"The explosion would have been instantaneous," Mr. Metzger said. "If the gas stove was turned on in the kitchen and was leaking for a period of time, and if something -- even on the second floor -- created a spark and the mixture was proper, that could have set off an explosion all over the house."

The blast from the kitchen in the rear of Mrs. Wilderson's house destroyed it and half of the adjoining house, punched two large ** holes in an outer wall of a nearby home and shattered rear windows of homes across the alley in the Irvington

neighborhood. Slate roof tiles, tar paper and boards showered into the next block.

Mr. Metzger said BG&E crews had completed testing all lines in the area yesterday and found "no leak anywhere in our lines up to and including the meter in the basement" at Mrs. Wilderson's house. Any leak would have been in the lines to Mrs. Wilderson's gas appliances, but he said the cause was "more likely improper use of equipment."

Elizabeth Wilson, a friend and next-door neighbor for 41 years, said Mrs. Wilderson had Alzheimer's disease and was sometimes absent-minded.

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