[UPDATED]: Mayor & Co. Speak About South Philly Rowhome Explosion

To watch the news conference live, click here.

Basic information announced:

  • Incident occurred at 11:09 a.m.
  • Determined: due to natural gas
  • Area deemed under control at 1 p.m.
  • 8 people affected, 3 of which are children
  • 4 adults and 3 children suffered minor injuries
  • 1 adult (the worker on site) rushed to HUP suffering from severe burns and then transferred to Temple; in critical condition
  • 28 homes remain evacuated; plan to reopen 22 to residents sometime this evening
  • Fire Department stopped work at 7 p.m. yesterday evening and resumed investigation today at 9 a.m.
  • The south side of the street has no electricity; plans to replace a line today
  • North side, home from 401-421, then 437-445 can return
  • Homes directly across from 428 (423, 433) residents still out of their homes
  • 428, 429, 430, 431, 432, and 433 are still without gas service
  • Water department reported flooding at 426 through 430


  • Thoroughly inspected home, reported complete and compliant on July 26th, 2013
  • Shortly after purchase of property, SCK obtained 4 permits, bulding permit for interior alterations in April, permit for heating and air conditioning in April, plumbing permit in April, and electrical permit in June
  • L&I completed 14 inspections of this work between issuance of the permits and 7/26/13
  • No violations were issued at any of the inspections
  • All permit work at the property was finished and construction was not on-going
  • Property owner was present for inspections on 7/26/13
  • All work requiring permits completed and in compliance with the Philadelphia code
  • The only thing open was the electrical permit; they send the city the certificate, which city received today
  • Only cosmetic work remained, for which no permit is needed
  • Hot water heater installed and inspected as part of 3 plumbing inspections
  • During the June 24th inspection, inspector noticed minor adjustments that needed to be made and these corrections were made prior to the final inspection on 7/26/13

Unanswered questions about what occurred on Monday:

  • “I’m not in a position to truly and completely addresses rumors and speculation” — Mayor Nutter
  • Any work being done on Monday was cosmetic work, not permitted work requiring regulation by Department of License and Inspections
  • Speculation about the contractor lighting a cigarette is pure speculation at this point; fire department still investigating actual cause of the incident
  • Property owners have been informed that demolition must begin immediately

From Michael Fink, Deputy Commissioner of Licenses & Inspections:

  • Inspection determines whether water heater is installed properly, not if it’s up and running
  • It does not have to be operational at that time
  • The person on-site doing the work has been described as a handyman and not necessarily a contractor of any sort
  • The State’s Home Improvement contractor license exempts contractors from Philadelphia license if you’re working in one or two family development; this was single family
  • Doesn’t know whether the gas was on or not at the time of the inspection

From Derrick Sawyer, Deputy Fire Chief:

  • Have not spoken with the contractor; have not had any formal interview with the contractor
  • Regarding where it started, in basement: part of ongoing investigation, fire marshal on site now

From Barry O’Sullivan, Philadelphia Gas Works spokesman:

  • Have not confirmed that it was a gas leak
  • Anything with regard to cause has not been confirmed
  • Some of the residents apparently suggested they were smelling gas: There was not a single call into PGW that reported or speculated gas

From Mayor:

  • The installation of the water heater was done
  • The individual who was in there was doing other work, some floor work
  • The hot water heater had already been installed and we do not know whether this particular person, described as more of a “tile person,” had any connection or relationship with the various contractors that are licensed and permitted, who’s work had been completed on Friday, 7/26/13
  • The permitted work done by contractors, included installation of water heater, was completed on Friday, and what the man on site was doing is currently unknown and we’ll get through that as the fire marshal finishes investigation
  • No comment from SCK, particularly Finney
  • Cost for the clean up: We have to fix the site and make it as safe as possible
    • From L&I: Any cost for work the city needs to perform on private property is billed to the owner; if the owner fails to pay—(he trailed off)
  • There was gas service at the property yesterday morning
  • Wouldn’t give name of the person in critical condition based on HIPPA regulation

To wrap up: At the time of the explosion, work was complete in all the permitted areas, including the installation of the hot water heater. The individual who was injured was doing other work in the house that didn’t require permitting–maybe something with tiling or flooring. It’s unclear if the man who was injured had any relationship with the permitted contractors.

The mayor wants to have a conversation with the owner, Steve Finney to figure out who that individual is. Unfortunately, the worker can’t say himself what he was doing because he’s severely injured. There is an ongoing fire marshal investigation.

The mayor says no one has spoken to the owner yet–that they’ve all been focused on the “disaster.” The fire marshal will talk to the owner, at some point, but Nutter says he doesn’t enforce the marshal’s schedule.

PGW has indicated that there was service at the property, but “we don’t know whether there was a gas leak or not,” Nutter says.

So far, City Councilman Mark Squilla is the only person to have said that the accident was related to a lit cigarette, which he told reporters yesterday. We have an interview with Squilla here.

Conference reporting by Camilla Brandfield-Harvey