Victims from Glenville house explosion released from hospital; investigation points to propane clothes dryer

The scene Sunday morning

The scene Sunday morning

GLENVILLE – Although all indications still point to a propane clothes dryer in the basement, investigators may never know with certainty what caused Sunday’s house explosion on Sacandaga Road, Glenville Hill Fire Department Assistant Chief Rick Manocchi suggested Tuesday.

Miraculously, both occupants, including a man who was using the dryer in the basement, walked out of the hospital Monday, Manocchi said.

But because of the home’s instability, investigators aren’t able to enter and “take the dryer apart, and really be able to get into it and answer their questions,” Manocchi said.

The explosion was so severe that part of the first floor wall at the 887 Sacandaga Road home was blown out. The section previously had a front door and two windows.

The town’s code enforcer and building inspector posted the house unsafe and determined it will need to be demolished, Town Supervisor Christopher Koetzle said.

However it is not an emergency demolition and does not need to be done immediately.  The owners are working with the insurance company on further action.  Glenville’s code office will continue to monitor the situation and work with the family, the supervisor said.  

Rick Zahner identified himself on social media Tuesday as the accident victim. Richard and Cheryl Zahner are listed in county records as the home’s owenr.

“It was my house that exploded,” Zahner wrote on Facebook. “My wife and I lost everything. Your care and offers to help are so much appreciated.

“We are going to stay with family out of the area but can’t take our chickens. Right now we just can’t wrap our heads around this,” Zahner wrote, adding “we are just devastated.”

A friend of the family launched a fundraiser for Cheryl and Rick Zahner’s medical bills, hotel stays and care for their three dogs and bird on the GoFundMe website.

Manocchi, the fire official, called the couple’s release from the hospital “fantastic news.”

He said the male victim who was near the dryer before the explosion suffered burns. The woman, who was upstairs, was knocked down from the impact and had injuries that weren’t extensive.

The investigation is still pending. Manocchi said it could be two to three weeks before a completed report is in hand.

But the propane clothes dryer remains the focus of the investigation, he said.

Manocchi said the dryer was installed in September and had been in use since then.

“Had it been a brand new installation – like this had been the first time that they were using it, which is the assumption I was going with on Sunday, after it happened – then you would obviously point towards, ‘OK, something was either missed or went wrong with the installation.’

“Finding out now though that it’s been in use for a number of months, it probably wasn’t anything to do with the installation,” he said.

“Now the problem is, because we’re not able to let the investigators into the building, they don’t have any way of tearing things apart and seeing, was there a mechanical failure, or was there something else.” 

This is going to be one of those cases “where we may never know,” Manocchi said.

“Which is frustrating for everybody because investigators want to investigate. They want to know, and we all love to have an answer and say, ‘Aha.’ But I don’t know if we’re going to get a chance to get that far with this one,” he said.

The house was structurally compromised to the extent firefighters had to put out the fire from outside, through holes in the foundation.

Investigators used cameras and a camera pole to look inside the building. Manocchi described the tool as what looked like a 12-foot selfie stick.

“This is something that Colonie Fire Company carried with them,” he said. “They were the collapse experts that were there on Sunday, and they were able to help the investigators by letting them borrow that pole and try to get some pictures from outside of the house.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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