Warren, OH – By RAYMOND L. SMITH Tribune Chronicle

WARREN TOWNSHIP – The explosion and fire that destroyed a single family home Sunday on Wood Lenhart Road may have been caused by natural gas trapped in the basement and attic.

Homeowner Robert Small and his wife, Michelle, were listed in fair condition Monday afternoon at Metro Health Medical Center in Cleveland. On Sunday, fire officials said the couple had second-degree burns.

”The homeowner removed a capped pipe that was sticking in a wall in his house,” Chuck Hanni, an arson and explosion investigator from the State Fire Marshal’s office, said Monday. ”The homeowner thought he smelled fuel oil. When he found a pipe coming into the house from an outside wall, he took it out. He believed it was part of an old fuel oil system that previously had been connected to the house.”

Once the pipe was removed, Robert Small covered the opening in the wall to prevent small animals from entering, Hanni said. Hanni said the pipe actually was connected to the natural gas line that entered the house from the street. Over the next 30 to 45 minutes, natural gas filled the crawl space under the house and in the attic area.

Warren Township Fire Chief Ken Schick said they believe the gas was ignited by a pilot light of a hot water tank or furnace.

The house, which was made primarily of concrete block and bricks, exploded about 5:12 p.m, sending bricks and glass flying across the yard toward the street and neighboring homes. The first call to the fire department was at 5:13 p.m Fire investigators did not leave the area until 10:30 p.m. and returned early Monday morning.

Based on interviews, Hanni estimates Small removed the pipe sometime between 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. The homeowner was interviewed by fire investigator Matt Hartnett.

Hanni said fire investigators were able to trace the cause of the explosion based on statements given by Small and with the help of Dominion East Ohio Gas Co.. After the explosion, the gas in the house kept feeding the fire.

”This was an unfortunate accident,” Hanni said. Schick said ammunition in the house did not cause the explosion.

The couple’s dog, Brandy, which had a burn on its nose and a paw, was taken from the scene by the Animal Welfare League. The dog, a terrier mix, is expected to recover from its injuries.