Casper, WY – By Brendan Burke, Star-Tribune

The Valentines Day explosion that obliterated a Casper Mountain cabin has raised awareness about the dangers of improper gas appliance installations.

Even so, some people are still skipping the required city and county permits and inspections, said Don Ranes and Doug Barrett, building inspectors for Natrona County and the city of Casper.

Before having any gas appliances installed in your home, it’s vital to make sure your contractor is licensed for such work and has secured the required permits, Ranes said.

Permits and inspections are also required if you install a gas appliance yourself, Ranes said.

The explosion at 365 Van Winkle was the result of a propane leak in an uninspected gas line, Ranes said. There is an on-going criminal investigation regarding the explosion, he said.

The stove involved in the explosion came from Magic City Stoves. Since the explosion, the store’s owner, Steve Schicketanz, apparently has stopped using the plumber who installed the gas line, Barrett and Ranes said.

Schicketanz also has begun securing city and county permits when his company installs a stove, Barrett and Ranes said. He previously not done so, Ranes said.

Schicketanz said the city and county have eliminated some gray areas in their permit rules since the Casper Mountain explosion. The permit process works better now, and he routinely secures permits for installations, he added.

Schicketanz refused to comment further.

The dangers of improperly installed gas appliances often go unnoticed for years, and the calamities that can result are not always explosive.

After buying a Casper home in 2004, Lisa Stine began noticing her carbon monoxide detector was recording high readings of the potentially deadly gas.

The Casper Fire Department and Kinder Morgan determined the carbon monoxide was coming from a gas heating stove, she said. The problem seemed to go away after the stove was cleaned, but it returned within a few months. And with the high readings came the scent of natural gas, she said.

While the family was out of town earlier this year, one of their two guinea pigs died, Stine said. Following the animal’s death, Stine contacted Steve Garner, owner of All American Home Center, a fireplace and home heating stove dealership.

Garner said he discovered that the stove was not properly attached to the chimney. Additionally, after six years of being exposed to high temperatures, the stove’s gas line had warped and developed a pin-sized hole, Stine said.

“I was horrified,” she said, adding that she avoided an explosion by the “grace of God.”

When Stine contacted the city, it was discovered the stove had never been inspected, she said.

Although Garner didn’t install that stove, he admitted his company has sometimes been lax about acquiring permits for venting wood and wood-pellet stoves.

He has been more vigilant about compliance since the Casper Mountain explosion, he said.

Anyone with a question as to the legality of any gas work or about permits for home improvement should call the city or the county, Ranes and Barrett said.

Prosecuting those who illegally install gas appliances is difficult, because the facts regarding who did the unpermitted work are hard to pin down, Barrett said.

Instead, the county has chosen to focus on increasing awareness of the dangers, Ranes said.

People need to be especially vigilant to make sure home-improvement work is done properly and inspected in these boom times, Ranes said.

With licensed contractors in high demand, unlicensed people may hire out to do work that legally requires a licensed plumber or electrician, he said.