District Heights, MD- The Washington Post, By Allison Klein and Hamil R. Harris

Warren and Carolyn Ford were alarmed by the unmistakable stench of natural gas that saturated their District Heights home. Over weeks, they said, they alerted Washington Gas officials, who sent over workers to fix a pipe, and after the smell persisted, replace the entire line.

Eleven days later, the Fords’ four-bedroom home blew up in a fiery blast, reducing the brick structure and its contents to mounds of rubble. Neither the Fords nor their two children were in the 1960s-era house when it exploded at 3 p.m. Monday.

“That’s where my daughter’s room was,” Ford, 47, said yesterday as he surveyed a charred row of pine beams that had been his family’s home since June.

Prince George’s County fire investigators said yesterday that they believe a faulty pipe in the street was leaking gas, which built up in the house in the 2100 block of Wintergreen Avenue. The gas probably was ignited by a pilot light in the house, said fire department spokesman Mark Brady.

That line has since been repaired, Brady said.

Tim Sargeant, a spokesman for Washington Gas, said the company has not determined the cause and is investigating.

He acknowledged wider problems in the neighborhood, however, saying a recent high number of calls for service in District Heights has been “slightly unusual.”

Since mid-February, the company has received 260 calls from people who smelled gas in the District Heights neighborhood, which resulted in 100 service orders, Sargeant said. In contrast, the average number of calls in a neighborhood that size is about 85, he said.

Many of the District Heights calls were for a persistent neighborhood problem of broken mechanical couplings, devices that join pieces of pipe.

“We have had an unusual number of leaks in that area,” Sargeant said. “A number are because of faulty couplings.”

Most of the couplings in that neighborhood were installed in the 1960s and ’70’s, he said. He did not know if they are leaking because of weather, age or some other cause.

Couplings for the Fords’ house were replaced Feb. 28. When the problem did not subside, workers installed a new service line March 17.

“I never wanted a house with gas because this was one of my worst fears,” said Ford, a crew supervisor for the Prince George’s County Department of Public Works.

Several residents on Wintergreen Avenue said they have complained for months about the smell of gas in their community.

“I am nervous about the whole thing,” said Marilyn Italiano, who lives in the same block as the Fords. “It is scary because we have smelled gas for the last six to eight months to a year.”

Washington Gas crews went house to house yesterday, checking for gas leaks and “trying to address residents’ concerns in that vicinity,” Sargeant said.

Prince George’s County Council Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), who came to the scene yesterday, said he wanted some answers from Washington Gas. “I am extremely concerned about this situation,” he said.

The County Council has scheduled an emergency meeting Friday with representatives from Washington Gas and county fire officials to receive information about the blast.


Gas leak determined to be cause of explosion in District Heights

The Gazatte, Corina Rivera

Fire officials have confirmed that an underground gas leak caused a District Heights home to explode into flames.

At about 3 p.m., Monday, a two-story, split level home in the 2100 block of Wintergreen Avenue exploded after it caught on fire.

The explosion was so severe that it knocked off a side of the house next door that was at least 30 to 40 yards away, said Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department.

“The home is completely destroyedbut there were no injuries and the two individuals that live in the home were at work at the time,” Brady said.

Prince George’s County Councilman William Campos (D-District 2) of Hyattsville said he is concerned because Washington Gas had received complaints from neighbors about the smell of gas in the area.

Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department Spokesman Chauncey Bowers said Wednesday, “Yesterday’s information was that the cause of the fire was related to an underground gas leak that made it to the house and found an ignition source.”