PA – Demolition will begin this morning on three Spring Garden homes damaged in Friday’s natural gas explosion on Lovitt Way.

Detective Michael Burns of the city arson squad said yesterday they had determined the blast was caused by a natural gas explosion in the kitchen at 845 Lovitt Way.

The owner of the house where the explosion occurred, Ray Glatz, has been staying in a McCandless nursing home but had planned to move back as soon as he was well enough. Mr. Glatz said his grandson has been checking on the house every two weeks.

While they have not yet pinpointed the ignition site in the kitchen, Detective Burns said a meter reading taken three days before the explosion showed that more than double the normal amount of gas was going into the home.

“The reading that’s on the meter is an extraordinary amount of gas for a three-day period,” said Dave Spigelmyer, a spokesman for Equitable Gas. “If there was some malicious activity or malfunction of an appliance in that area, there was enough natural gas it could have led to an explosion,”

The mid-morning blast turned the two-story structure and an adjacent abandoned house to rubble.

The detective expects the investigation to continue “a couple more weeks” as they sort through the debris of the two destroyed homes. He said they will be checking the appliances and pipes for signs of wear or tampering. They found no evidence of drug-making equipment, he said. An Equitable Gas spokesman said no gas leaks have been detected outside of the house.

Following inspections of nearly 40 buildings, city officials determined that three other houses on Lovitt Way must also be demolished. Nearly 20 additional homes were damaged in the blast.

Following a news conference yesterday afternoon to announce their findings, Public Safety Director Michael Huss organized a meeting at the local fire station for about 25 neighborhood residents to update them on the investigation and answer their questions.

Among those attending was Councilwoman Darlene Harris, who said she expects to work with the Spring Garden Neighborhood Council and the Northside Leadership Conference to set up a fund with ESB Bank to help affected residents.