Plum, PA House Explosion – 6 Dead [Updated]

Updated August 23 Six people are dead after an August 13 house explosion in Plum, PA. Killed in the blast were Casey Clontz, 38, Keegan Clontz, 12, Heather Oravitz, 51, Kevin Sebunia, 55, and Michael Thomas, 57. Three people injured in the explosion were transported to area hospitals where one of them, Paul Oravitz, 56, who had severe burns over most of his body, died on August 16.

Paul and Heather Oravitz were the owners of 141 Rustic Ridge Dr. where the blast occurred around 10:20 a.m. on August 13. When emergency responders arrived at the scene, they found the home destroyed by an explosion and two neighboring homes engulfed in flames.

An investigation is ongoing.

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“I’ve been to six house explosions in Plum, and this is the worst I’ve seen in 47 years or 48 years, the worst one, just the amount of damage,” James Sims, chief of the Holiday Park Volunteer Fire Department and emergency management coordinator for Plum, told WTAE. Plum is located in Allegheny County.

Gas Leaks Reported Nearby

Residents of Neighboring Community Smell Gas

Days after the deadly blast, two gas leaks were reported in the Regency Park and Rustic Ridge neighborhoods which are located about a 10-minute drive from the site of the explosion. According to a KDKA report, neighbors smelled gas “and called the gas company, which confirmed the leaks.”

Department of Environmental Protection Investigation

On August 14, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro directed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to open a stray gas investigation.

Penneco CEO Ben Wallace said the company notified DEP of a pinhole-sized leak in a 4-inch gas gathering line the company discovered while checking its lines after the blast, according to a TribLive report. The gathering line is located about 300 feet from the explosion site.

Using handheld meters, DEP employees have been sweeping the area to detect and measure gas levels to determine how the gas may be traveling and what role it may have played in the explosion. “Analysis of the isotopic signature of the gas can indicate the depth of where the gas originated to aid in DEP’s identification of the source of the gas,” the agency said in a statement.

The neighborhoods where the blast occurred are “built on abandoned mine land surrounded by shallow oil and gas wells, some of which are producing gas and some of which have been abandoned,” according to the Associated Press. This is not uncommon in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“DEP has assessed the coal seam in the Plum Borough area and found no nearby shafts or drill/bore holes in the vicinity of the incident and determined the likelihood of an abandoned mine-related gas issue to be very low. Two DEP projects to extinguish the nearby Renton abandoned mine fire were successfully concluded in October 2021. Abandoned mine features are not currently part of DEP’s investigation,” DEP said in a statement.

Possible Hot Water Tank Issues

The Fire Marshal’s office is aware of reports that the homeowners at 141 Rustic Ridge Dr. were having problems with their hot water tank and are investigating, according to Allegheny County Emergency Management. The tank was located in the basement.

“When an appliance is defective, poorly serviced, or improperly installed, it can lead to a gas leak, which can cause a house explosion,” said Explosion Attorney Eric Hageman, who leads the Pritzker Hageman Explosion Team. Household appliances that can cause gas explosions include

  • Dryers
  • Stoves
  • Furnaces
  • Air conditioners
  • Generators
  • Outdoor grills
  • Water heaters

Previous Gas Explosions in Plum

In April 2022, there was a house explosion on Hialeah Drive in Plum. The cause of that explosion is still under investigation. “The Office of the Fire Marshal has completed its evidence examination of all of the gas service and circuitry related to the April 23, 2022 explosion at a home on Hialeah Drive in Plum. The Fire Marshal’s Office is reviewing the entire case and setting up follow-up interviews to collect additional observations from the occupants and neighbors, which should be completed within the next few weeks. The scene has been released by the office and the insurance company is also expected to release it, allowing the site to be cleaned up,” the Fire Marshal’s office stated in a September 2022 press release.

In 2008, a gas explosion in Plum killed one man and severely injured a 4-year-old girl. The blast, which occurred around 1:40 p.m., destroyed two neighboring homes. The cause of the blast was a gas leak from a pipe damaged by an excavating company years earlier, according to an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Natural gas was also the source of a 1996 house explosion in Plum.

Peoples Gas Statement

Peoples Gas released the following statement:

“Our crews continue to work and coordinate with the Allegheny Fire Marshall, who is leading the investigation. As a precaution, we shut off gas service to about 50 neighborhood homes. We will continue to update our customers on when we believe gas will be restored.”

Burn Injury Investigation

Attorney Eric Hageman, who leads the Pritzker Hageman Burn Injury Legal Team says, “It’s crucial to do an independent investigation in any case involving severe burn injuries.” Our firm has the resources to work with highly experienced cause and origin specialists to determine what factors caused the explosion, he said.

Lawsuit Filed against CenterPoint Energy for Explosion Wrongful Death

Talk to an Experienced Explosion Attorney

The explosion attorneys at the national law firm Pritzker Hageman represent people who have been injured in explosions and the families of those who have suffered the wrongful death of a loved one. We recently filed a lawsuit against CenterPoint Energy for a wrongful death in a Minnesota explosion. For a free consultation with our experienced Explosion Team, please call 1-888-377-8900, or contact us online.

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