≡ Menu

Investigators sifting through debris to determine cause of Greenwood explosion

A large investigative team is sifting through debris today at the site of what used to be three well-known Greenwood businesses before they were destroyed by a natural gas explosion early Wednesday morning.

Half a dozen investigators in white hazmat suits work at right, while about a dozen firefighters confer in back at left.

Half a dozen investigators in white hazmat suits work in the center and at right, while about a dozen firefighters confer in back at left.

Andy Wappler, Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Puget Sound Energy, told me this morning at the explosion site that the investigation will look at three main things: The condition of the gas system, which includes everything from the gas line in the street to the condition of the meter set at the building; natural gas appliances inside the building, such as the furnace and water heater; and whether something could have happened to the gas system by a third party. For that, they’ll look at recent service calls in the area and maintenance records.

Investigators today are looking at each individual piece of debris to determine if it’s relevant. If not, it will be set aside and eventually carted away. Anything that might be relevant, such as a piece of gas line, the meter, water heater and furnace, “That’s what they’re going through the rubble trying to find,” Wappler said. “That is going to take a while.”

When they do find pieces of gas pipe, they’ll pump them up with pressurized air to determine if there’s a leak or weak spot, and look for any corrosion or impact to the pipe.

The explosion site as seen from North 84th Street.

The explosion site and investigative equipment as seen from North 84th Street.

Wappler said investigators have already interviewed witnesses, including people who were still at The Angry Beaver tavern directly across the street at the time of the explosion, all firefighters at the scene, and transients who were in the area.

He said some people are worried that they don’t know how to shut off the gas to their house if they smell a leak, but he said, “In most cases you don’t want to. You want to leave and then call us. And leave without touching a light switch or using the phone. Leave, get a safe distance away and then call.”

Puget Sound Energy’s website has a page describing how to know if you have a natural gas leak and what to do.

As for how long this investigation might take, Wappler said, “It will take us as long as it takes to get it right.”

While our neighborhood was lucky that no one was seriously injured or killed, that doesn’t minimize its impact compared to other natural gas explosions.

“The reality is these are all significant. They’re never small,” Wappler said. “There are no insignificant gas explosions.”