State police say a buildup of propane gas led to a huge explosion in a Salem residence last month, killing six people and destroying the home.
In a statement released this evening, investigators indicated a switch located on a water heater in the basement of the two-story home on Route 29 was the “most probable ignition source” for the lethal blast. They believe propane from one of two 100-gallon tanks stored outside the home may have leaked toward where the switch was located at the northeast corner of the basement.
“During the course of this investigation, it was determined that there was a reported event involving the discharge of propane within the basement of this residence just prior to this explosion,” spokeswoman Maureen Tuffey stated in a news release. “The most probable ignition source identified was the pressure switch located on the domestic water system located on the basement floor in the northeast corner of the basement.”
State police indicated their investigation into the blast is continuing. No charges have been filed in the case.
Residents of the rented home complained they smelled gas prior to the explosion. This claim was reiterated by an attorney representing four of the deceased residents a week later.
Preliminary results of the state police investigation determined that only one propane tank was being used at the time of the blast. The tank was fueling a water heater in the west portion of the basement and a cooking stove located near the east wall of the kitchen on the first floor. The tank also had a line reserved for the future installation of a propane clothes dryer in the basement, though an electric one was being used by the residents.
An inactive tank was located on the rear of the home and was reported to serve an efficiency apartment in the building. The tank hadn’t been used since March 2010, when the efficiency was removed and the home converted back to a single residence.
While the home had seven residents, there were 11 people in and around the building when it exploded shortly after noon. There were two overnight guests and two people who stopped by shortly before the blast, which shot debris more than 50 feet in the air and across Route 29.
A witness living across the street described the home as lifting in the air and crumbling forward. Concrete from the blast smashed into the ranch-style residence roughly 100 feet away.