Pennsylvania house explosion: What we know so far

Five people were found dead after an explosion leveled three homes and damaged at least a dozen others in the western Pennsylvania town of Plum, authorities said Sunday. 

"This is certainly a sad, sad day and a sad time, for not just the folks in Plum but all the folks in the community and in this region," said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. 

Plum Borough Police Chief Lanny Conley said the bodies of four adults and one adolescent were recovered shortly after the blast. 

Two people who were injured in the blast were released from the hospital, while one remained in critical condition, said Steve Imbarlina, deputy director of fire and emergency services for Allegheny County. Fifty-seven firefighters were treated at the scene for minor issues. 

The Allegheny County Fire Marshal’s office has taken over as lead investigator in this incident and will be working in conjunction with local, state and federal partners to figure out what led to the deadly explosion. 


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Here’s what we know so far. 

What happened? 

On Saturday, August 12, Allegheny County started to get 911 calls about a house explosion at 10:23 a.m. 

The explosion was reported at Rustic Ridge Drive and Brookside Drive in Plum, according to county officials. 

When police and fire arrived at the scene, there were people trapped under debris and multiple homes were damaged and windows were blown out. 

Crews from at least 18 fire departments worked to douse the flames with the help of water tankers from Allegheny and Westmoreland counties.


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What was the damage?

The explosion destroyed three homes – one was leveled in the blast and two other by fire. At least a dozen other structures were also damaged, authorities said. 

The home that exploded was owned by Heather Oravitz, the town's community development director, and her husband. 

Oravitz was one of the five people killed, and her husband, Paul, suffered severe burns over most of his body and was hospitalized in critical condition.

The blast also killed Plum Borough Manager Michael Thomas, 57, and three other people in the neighborhood: Kevin Sebunia, 55; Casey Clontz, 38; and Clontz's 12-year-old son, Keegan.

Crews from at least 18 fire departments worked to douse the flames. Fifty-seven firefighters were treated at the scene for minor issues, according to Steve Imbarlina, deputy director of fire and emergency services for Allegheny County.

What caused the explosion? 

The cause of the explosion is under investigation. 

Imbarlina warned that figuring out what caused the deadly blast would be a "slow and long" process. Forensic testing could last "months if not years." 

Michael Huwar, president of Peoples Gas, said the company's checks for gas leaks underground and in the air as well as the consistent pressure verified at regulation stations indicates that "our system was operating as designed." 

Gas and electric service was shut off as a precaution, and officials said Sunday a plan was in place to begin restoring service with electric power expected to be returned to all but a few residences.

Later in the week, authorities said the owners of the home that exploded were having issues with their hot water tank but didn't confirm that had been the cause. 


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Where can victims find help?

Residents who were impacted by the explosion and need help finding housing and other resources can visit Renton VFD located at 1996 Old Mine Road. 

Allegheny County Human Services has also set up a helpline for anyone who may be experiencing mental distress at 1-800-985-5990 or text "TalkWithUs" to 66746.  

Officials also noted that both the Red Cross and Salvation Army are assisting residents who were impacted, the Washington Post reported. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.