Kettering house explosion investigation could take months

Multiple agencies are expected to be involved in the investigation of a deadly Kettering house explosion early Tuesday, and the work could take months, one investigator said.

A 58-year-old woman, Darlene Baumgardner, died as a result of injuries suffered in the incident on North Claridge Drive. Massive flames shot into the sky as first responders arrived. Baumgardner was found in a neighbor’s yard.

Scott Bennett was hired by a law firm to investigate the explosion and was on the scene Wednesday. He is a former Dayton fire investigator and president of the International Association of Arson Investigators.

Many parties will seek their own review of the incident, including the victim’s family, insurance and utility companies. That work will take several months to finish, he said.

Kettering fire officials initially said a natural gas leak was a possible cause but have not provided additional information on the cause since then.

Dash-camera video released by Kettering police shows what officers and firefighters encountered Tuesday morning after a house exploded on North Claridge Drive.

This news organization requested the video to be released and is continuing to report and make inquiries about the investigation into the deadly incident.

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The video shows the police cruiser driving through the meandering suburban street. It was raining at the time. Initially, the video shows a Kettering fire engine and a glow in the background sky. When the officer pulls closer, the video shows massive flames reaching 30 to 50 feet in the sky where the home once stood.

Baumgardner was found in critical condition in the next door neighbor’s yard after her house exploded before dawn Tuesday, according to authorities. Officials said she succumbed to her injuries at the scene.

Preliminary findings from the autopsy indicate Baumgardner died of multiple blunt-force trauma and thermal injuries, the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office said today.

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When the flames were extinguished at the house on North Claridge Drive, nothing but charred and splintered debris remained.

The Kettering emergency dispatch center was inundated with calls from neighbors, the first shortly after 4:30 a.m.

“Oh my God. I can see it a little better now. I think the house has collapsed. There was an explosion. There’s stuff in the yard,” one of the first 9-1-1 callers reported.

What caused the explosion?

The exact cause of the explosion remains under investigation, but the immediate indications were that it was linked to a natural gas leak, according to Kettering Fire Chief Tom Butts.

“It sure seems like it could have been fed by natural gas of some sort, just due to the bulk of the explosion here and the debris field,” he said. “I’m believing that the neighborhood is in shock from this occurring … This is a tragic event, but we’ll do everything we possibly can do to figure out exactly what caused this, so that this never happens again, or we can figure out how to keep this from happening again.”

If a gas leak is linked to the cause of the explosion, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio may be obligated to launch an investigation, said PUCO Spokesman Matt Schilling.

“If the gas utility appears to be involved, as state regulators of gas pipeline safety, we would get involved,” Schilling said.

Schilling said PUCO investigates to determine that state and federal gas pipeline safety standards were followed and to determine if there were any contributing factors.

If the source of the leak is determined to be inside the home, Schilling said PUCO would not be involved in the investigation because it wouldn’t involve the “utilities infrastructure.”

Residents who live near the home told WHIO’s Sean Cudahy they were wakened by a loud boom that shook their homes.

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“The garage door was blown across the street … Just an ‘oh my God’ moment,” said neighbor Jim Brown.

Neighbor Cynthia Michael said she and her husband heard the boom and searched their home for what might have caused it.

“It could happen to anybody,” Michael said. “You’re very blessed if your house is intact, especially considering this time of year and Christmas. It makes it even harder.”

A similar explosion happened March 28 in the 400 block of Pamela Sue Drive in Kettering. Four people and a dog escaped, but one person suffered injuries. This news organization is working to learn the findings from that investigation.

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