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Explosion tied to improper gas work


CONWAY — Officials determined the cause of the explosion that levelled a house on Valladares Drive on Monday was improper gas work, making it the second such explosion in two months.
"The source of the gas leak was non-code compliant gas work," Conway Village Fire Chief Steve Solomon said in an email. "The source of ignition was most likely the hot water heater. The explosion is simply an accident. There was no intent to do wrong and no criminal act involved."
"Just as with the explosion on Stark Road, this serves as a reminder of why the fire code exists," he said. "The fire code establishes the minimum standards necessary to provide for life safety and prevention of property damage."
In Conway, however, such codes are not stringently enforced when it comes to residential properties. Town staff inspect "all commercial and all multifamily units," according to David Pandora, the town building inspector, but not residential properties or duplexes.
On commercial buildings or buildings with three or more units, Pandora said, "we inspect the whole shooting match," plumbing, electrical, structural components and more.
"It's crazy," he said. "We should be doing residential," but to do it would take more hours, more staff, more manpower.
But it would also cut down on building explosions, he said. The propane explosion on Stark Road was caused by someone using copper pipe intended for plumbing for a gas line. That error would have been caught had a building inspector looked at it.
But "from a policy standpoint, the town has never authorized residential building inspections," town manager Earl Sires said. "We have never done residential inspections."
In fact, Sires said, the issue has come before the town before, and the idea of implementing inspections was rejected.
The situation has led to issues in the past, he said. "One that stands out is someone built a house on the wrong lot." That incident was thankfully resolved, but inspections could have avoided it.
"Clearly there are problems," Sires said, many of which the town is aware of, but they aren't issues officials have been authorized to deal with.
"The Conway Fire Department would like to remind everyone that propane work is not for everyone," Solomon said. "Only state licensed gas fitters should be doing any gas work, and if you smell gas at your house, go outside, close the door behind you, and call your local fire department."
The Valladares Drive property, meanwhile, has been condemned.

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