Springfield, MO- By CONNIE FARROW, Associated Press Writer


A leak from a damaged natural gas line caused the fatal explosion last week at a southwest Missouri fairgrounds, investigators said Tuesday.

Maintenance worker Brad Murphy apparently set off the blast at Ozark Empire Fairgrounds in Springfield with a lighter, either as he lit a cigarette or possibly tried to find a light switch in a darkened basement, Assistant Fire

Chief Barry Rowell said.

Murphy, 34, of Springfield died of severe head trauma when the fairground’s Frisco Building exploded last Wednesday. The blast leveled that building and damaged about a half-dozen others.

Investigators found a hole in a 2-inch plastic line located 48 feet west of the Frisco Building, which had been used in past years to showcase railroad history in Missouri.

Construction debris – including pipe, rock, asphalt and tile – used as backfill caused the line to bow and to eventually erode over time, said Ernie DeCamp, spokesman for City Utilities of Springfield.

It remained unclear when and why the debris was added at the site. The utility typically backfills with sand, Rowell said.

Investigators also have yet to determined how the gas reached the Frisco Building, which was not equipped for service.

Investigators believe the leak occurred 15 to 30 days before the explosion. A strong order should have been present when Murphy, a smoker, entered the building to retrieve items from the basement.