Gas leak caused house explosion, fire in north Seattle

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by KING 5 News and Associated Press

KING5.com

Posted on September 26, 2011 at 5:22 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 27 at 1:21 PM

SEATTLE -- An explosion and massive fire that sent two people to the hospital early Monday was caused by a natural gas leak inside a house in the Pinehurst neighborhood.

The explosion severely injured the two people living in the home, Seattle City Light employee David Ingham and his wife Hong Ingham, both in their 50s. Both victims were immediately transported to Harborview Medical Center where Ingham is in satisfactory condition, but Hong remained in serious condition, the hospital said Monday afternoon.

The explosion, which leveled the house and scattered debris for an entire block, happened around 6:00 a.m. at Ingham's house near 123rd Street and NE 5th Avenue. It was so powerful, windows were shattered at nearly every house within a block.

"It felt like maybe it was an earthquake or something," said Claudia Paulson, who lives about a block away.  "I looked out my bedroom window and there was a huge ball of fire."

"There was just this huge impact and everything rattled," said Betty Shapiro, who lives a block and a half away.  "We kind of hit the floor and immediately heard car alarms go off."

"It just shook our whole building. I was shocked to learn how far north this was," said Rob Leland, who lives 20 blocks away. "I thought it was an earthquake."

Fire Department spokesman Kyle Moore said the two victims were inside the home when the blast occurred. One neighbor said after the blast, Ingham came to his house for help.

"He thought he smelled gas last night," said neighbor Evan Gullicson. "He said he thought it was a gas explosion."

Mark Cardenas, who lives near the explosion site, said some neighbors were trapped between the fire and a fence. 

"They were looking for a way to get away from their house," he said.  "I put our ladder over the gate and they started carrying kids over the gate."

The blast was strong enough to knock a plate off of a wall at Wes Gallagher's house, hitting him in the head while he slept in a recliner.  He has a big gash on his head but did not need stitches.

Seattle Fire Department investigators said there was a natural gas leak inside the house. The gas ignited when someone flipped on an electrical switch. Fire investigators said Ingham told them he had smelled gas Sunday, but didn't report it to anyone. PSE advised residents who smell gas to report it immediately.

However, a friend of the victims told KING 5 that he spoke with one of the survivors Monday and he said they did not smell gas the night before.

Puget Sound Energy crews shut off gas at the house and were taking meter readings in the area to determine if there were more gas leaks.  PSE said they are not 100 percent sure at this point if everything is safe; 11 nearby residents remain evacuated from their homes.

Fire officials said late Monday that the blast was possibly related to reported gas leaks on Sunday a few blocks away. Homeowners reported smelling gas in the 900 block of 122nd Street. Four homes were evacuated and a PSE crew dug up and fixed a gas line. 

PSE officials said one of the gas leaks was caused by someone digging in the area. Seattle fire officials said the other was caused by water erosion.
  
The fire was visible from Interstate 5 and several 5th and 6th streets were closed from 123rd to 124th streets. About 20-30 homes in the area were evacuated as a precaution; about 11 residents remained displaced.

KING 5's Liza Javier, Jake Whittenberg, Teresa Yuan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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