PAWTUCKET — The charred remains of the three-family house at 420-422 Mineral Spring Ave., where Tuesday's explosion occurred, was abuzz all day Wednesday with police and fire officials, National Grid workers, and various bulldozers and dump trucks. However, as the day drew to a close, there was no word on the cause of the devastating blast and fire that left at least seven people homeless and sent two to the hospital.
A man living on the third floor who suffered third-degree burns was reportedly expected to recover, along with a baby, believed to be his, who had second-degree burns to the head and cheek. Pawtucket Police declined to release the victim's names, and both are believed to be still hospitalized.
Fire Chief William Sisson said Wednesday morning that heavy equipment was being brought in to remove a large portion of the roof that had collapsed and was resting on the floor of the third-floor apartment. “We need to get in there to inspect, but the building is very unstable,” he said. He added that National Grid inspectors had not been able to enter the building yet either due to the structural issues.
Sisson said that he and other public safety officials had spoken with the tenants and others and had eyewitness accounts of what took place that day, but said there has been nothing definitive so far as to the cause or where the fire even started.
Sisson also said that National Grid workers had inspected the gas lines in the road, checked the sewers, and went from house to house in the immediate area looking for leaks but had found none. “It’s a puzzler,” he stated.
There had been speculation about the explosion being caused by gas. The three-story woodframe house, built in 1880, had been vacant for some time, but it had recently undergone renovations, and tenants occupied all three floors.
City officials had said Tuesday that a mechanical permit to install a new natural gas heating system in the newly renovated apartment house had been taken out on Sept. 30. The city had also said it had no record of anyone at the property calling to have the work inspected, as is required by the permit.
Yet, Douglas Hadden, communications director for the city administration, said that the property, owned by Lone Star Realty LLC, of Greenwich, Conn., had a valid certificate of occupancy.
Hadden also said the permit to install three new 1,000-BTU boilers that used natural gas had been pulled by an approved East Providence heating contractor and was good for 60 days. However, while no one had called the city to inspect the system, he said it is not known at this point if the heating system was ever installed or turned on. This is another determination that still needs to be made, he pointed out.
Hadden also noted that the tenants would not have been required to leave when the new heating system was turned on; the requirement just called for the work to be inspected when it was completed.
Hadden said the goal had been to get Mineral Spring Avenue, one of the city’s main arteries, open by the end of the day, but as of last evening, it remained closed from Lorraine Street to Hope Street.
The house has also been deemed to be structurally unsafe and will be razed once the inspections have been completed.
For the tenants, a man, woman and baby on the third floor, a woman with a toddler-aged child on the second floor, and a young couple with a dog on the first floor, it meant finding a new place to live. The Red Cross had been called to assist some of the tenants, while others said they were staying with relatives.
Victoria Major, the first-floor tenant, was at the scene Wednesday afternoon moving out clothing and other belongings, much of it wet from the water used to extinguish the fire. “A lot of it can be washed, I guess,” she said, gesturing to a pile of soaked shirts on the sidewalk.
Major's boyfriend, Eric Silva, had been credited for being one of several men who raced up the stairs to alert the other residents after the blast occurred and who helped carry down the baby from the third floor. Although they were both home at the time of the explosion, Major and Silva escaped without injury. “We were lucky,” Major said, noting the extensive damage that had occurred.