Councilman Squilla: “The Information I Had Was From Being Down on the Scene”

Yesterday Councilman Mark Squilla told reporters that it was a lit cigarette that sparked the explosion at 428 Daly Street–a nugget of information traveled far and wide. In USA Today, the headline blared: “Official: Cigarette may have caused Pa. gas blast.” The AP article read:

Councilman Mark Squilla was at the scene and said a contractor had been trying to light the pilot on a water heater. Squilla says neighbors reported that the man lit a cigarette at one point and the house exploded.

Today, however, Mayor Nutter called it “speculation” when confronted with rumors of cigarettes and gas leaks. In his press conference, he made it clear that neither of those facts had been confirmed.

Squilla told us he only provided information that he heard while he was there, on the scene, speaking to neighbors. One man told Squilla that after the blast, the man indoors who was working on the house–now in critical condition at HUP–was talking, telling the fireman that he lit a cigarette, which was when the explosion happened.

“Is it gospel? I would say no,” says Squilla, of the neighbor’s story. On the other hand, he says, the notion that the explosion was due to a gas leak doesn’t seem far-fetched. “If I was a betting man, I would bet there was a gas leak.” Squilla said residents spoke to him about the smell of gas in the neighborhood. “The information I had was from being down on the scene, talking to people there. If [the mayor] wants to call it speculation, he can call it speculation.”

He’s still waiting to hear from various investigators, including South Detectives, to understand exactly what’s happened. Squilla wants to make sure all the contracting was on the up and up as well. “We don’t know if the [permits were] legally pulled and then a different operator went in to do the work,” he says, but promises “due diligence” until everything is clear.

Bottom line, says Squilla: “I think we’re really lucky that no one was killed. That building looked like someone dropped a bomb on it.”