Ramsey, MN – Jim Adams,Star Tribune

The Ramsey building explosion that killed three office workers was partly the result of improper installation of an underground gas pipe fitting, officials said.

Although more details were to be released today, several officials indicated the accidental blast was linked to improper installation and to the steel used to make the fitting. The explosion on Dec. 28 destroyed an office building at 6131 Hwy. 10.

Officials have said the natural gas seeped from the fitting through the ground, which filtered out the distinctive odor before the invisible gas reached the office building owned by Premier Commercial Properties. The fitting was under a parking lot about 50 feet west of the building.

The fitting is a cross joint connection at the point where the main gas pipe hit a supply line to buildings on either side of the main line, said Charles Kenow, director of the state Office of Pipeline Safety. He said the cause was a combination of factors related to the fitting material and installation. That was confirmed by Ramsey Fire Marshal Jerry Streich.

The ignition source wasn’t found in the debris, said state Fire Marshal investigator Denise DeMars.

The explosion buried three workers of Riverview Community Bank and the office manager for the building owner. It killed office manager Lorraine Melton, 35, of Elk River, and bank workers Ann Talle, 43, of Anoka, and Lois Self, 49, of Otsego. Passersby helped rescue bank executive Robert Smith, 60, of Coon Rapids, who suffered severe burns.

Wilbur Talle said he was relieved to hear the cause of the blast that killed his wife, “but I’d rather have her back.”

The pipe pieces were tested by Crane Engineering for CenterPoint Energy, which bought the gas line in 1993 from Midwest Energy Company, which installed the fitting, Kenow said. He said his office hasn’t decided whether to issue any citations against CenterPoint.