PLUM, Pa. (KDKA) — A sixth person died after a house exploded in Plum borough's Rustic Ridge community exploded.
Three nearby homes were destroyed and a dozen other homes were damaged in the blast on Saturday.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Officer identified the first five victims as 38-year-old Casey Clontz, 12-year-old Keegan Clontz, 51-year-old Heather Oravitz, 55-year-old Kevin Sebunia and 57-year-old Michael Thomas. , identified as 56-year-old Paul Oravitz, died on Wednesday at UPMC Mercy. The cause and manner of death for the victims are pending.
Emily Sebunia said her dad,, was always one to lend a hand whenever anyone needed help without ever expecting anything in return. She believes her dad was most likely doing just that when he died.
Casey Clontz and his 12-year-old son, Keegan, loved hunting and fishing, and the family said the 12-year-old was his father's shadow.
Thomas and Heather Oravitz worked for Plum Borough. Thomas was the borough manager and Heather Oravitz was the community development director. County records said they were neighbors. Now, both their houses are gone.
Records show the Oravitzs lived in the house that exploded.
"This is certainly a sad day and sad time not just for the folks in Plum but all the folks in the community and in this region," Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.
The blast sent shockwaves through the area, with nearby windows and doors blown off when the home along Rustic Ridge Drive exploded. It didn't take long before the two homes on both sides also caught fire.
Plum Borough Police Chief Lanny Conley said three other people were taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries. Two of those individuals have been released from the hospital while one remains in critical condition.
Chief Conley said that 57 firefighters were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
Peoples Gas President Michael Huwar said over the weekend that crews immediately began checking the area for leakage, including smell checks and checks underground and in the air, and said that early reports show that the system was operating as designed.
Following the explosion, utilities were shut off due to safety concerns, but electricity has been restored to all but the immediate area surrounding the blast.
Any resident who has questions about gas service in the neighborhood can find updates here.
On Sunday night, an officer monitoring the site noticed that a hotspot had begun smoking. Fire crews arrived and spent an hour spraying down the debris.
The Allegheny County Fire Marshal's Office is leading the investigation into the cause and origin of the fire and explosion and the process is expected to take some time.
Allegheny County officials say that the investigation could take months or even years.
"This investigation may last for months if not years so please keep that in mind. It's a slow process," Allegheny County Emergency Service Deputy Director Steve Imbarlina said.
In a release late Monday, the county said the home where the explosion happened was having "hot water tank issues." The tank was in the basement.
"ACFM will investigate that information along with any and all other possibilities during their processes that may explain what occurred," the release said.
Crews spent Monday going through the rubble. Heavy equipment went through the destroyed houses before the rain moved in. Crews with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Allegheny County offices, and utility crews investigated.
"In the meantime, we are bringing all of our resources to bear to help the Allegheny County fire marshal," Peoples Gas President Mike Huwar said.
To this point, there are holds on the three destroyed properties. This means nothing will be done to them, and any demolition would have to be approved by the borough.
Peoples Gas starts to restore service
A spokesperson for Peoples Gas said on Wednesday, which was shut off to about 50 homes after the explosion.
Crews completed additional system testing with the Allegheny County fire marshal and Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Tuesday night, Peoples Gas said.
Now technicians will go door to door to conduct a safety check and relight appliances. If residents aren't home, Peoples Gas said workers will leave a door hanger with customer service contact information and crews will be available on a 24/7 basis until service is fully restored.
Peoples Gas is reminding people that all its service employees wear a photo ID and residents should always ask to see ID before allowing a worker in their homes.
Gas leaks in different neighborhood
Three days after the deadly house explosion in Plum's Rustic Ridge neighborhood, crews investigated two gas leaks in Plum's Regency Park neighborhood on Tuesday.
One leak was along Kathy Lynn Drive and the other was at Crestview and Mower drives. The Regency Park and Rustic Ridge neighborhoods are about a 10-minute drive apart.
Neighbors said they smelled gas Tuesday and called the gas company, which confirmed the leaks.
Helping the helpers
Despite this tragedy causing so much heartache, the community has been stepping up to help one another and first responders, donating things like food and water.
But, Allegheny County is asking people to avoid the area if they have no reason to be there.
"Police and other borough staff have had to respond to ask that individuals leave the area. We again reiterate – If you do not live in the area and do not have any reason to be there, please stay away from the area," the county said.
Plum Borough School District
The superintendent, Dr. Rick Walsh, released this statement on Monday morning.
"It is with great sorrow that I write about the devastating incident that occurred in our Rustic Ridge neighborhood. The house explosion resulted in the tragic loss of life felt across our community. On behalf of the entire school district, I want to express my deepest sympathies and offer support to our school community affected by this tragedy.
"Support services will be available to our students, staff, and community members to ensure that anyone who needs assistance can find comfort and guidance. We will open our doors for healing and reflection, where memories can be shared and celebrated. It is our collective responsibility to ensure the emotional well-being of our students and families as we navigate this unimaginable tragedy. Our Crisis Intervention Team, comprised of district Counselors, Psychologists, and Social Workers in collaboration with Turtle Creek Valley Community Services, will be available on Monday and Tuesday, August 14 & 15 from 10-2 at Plum Senior High School Library.
"If assistance is needed to help your child or answer their questions, we would like to direct you to the Parent Resources page on our Special Education and Pupil Services website. Resources include Grief: Helping Handout for School and Home, Reacting to Grief, and other resources to help support families.
"During times like these, we must lean on one another for comfort and strength. Let us continue to extend a helping hand to the affected families, offering our support, condolences, and assistance in any way possible. Together, we can create an environment of compassion and unity that will help us heal."
"It was the loudest sound that I've ever heard in my entire life."
People who live along Rustic Ridge Drive say that when the explosion happened, it was the loudest sound they've ever heard.
"It was scary, it was very scary. It was like hell on Earth over there," said resident George Emanuele.
History of house explosions in Plum
This isin Plum Borough. Just last year in April,
In 2008, less than a half mile away, another home exploded on Mardi Gras Drive.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the explosion in 2008 was caused after a 2-inch gas line was hit in 2003. Investigators determined that it eventually failed after it corroded.
There also was another explosion in 1996 where natural gas was determined to be the cause.
Resources available for those in need
The Renton Volunteer Fire Department remains open to provide resources and supplies.
For anyone who may need grief counseling or support, you can call 1-800-985-5990 or you can text TalkWithUs to 66746.
In addition to those resources, the Plum Senior High School is open Monday and Tuesday, offering support services for students, staff, and community members.
The borough says that the doors will open for healing and reflection where memories can also be shared and celebrated. That will take place in the school's library from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.
Plum boys high school soccer team hosting fundraiser for Rustic Ridge
Plum porch boards made by the Wooden Loft are being sold with all profits benefiting Rustic Ridge families. For more information, click here.
Bishop hosts prayer service Tuesday
Bishop David Zubik hosted a prayer service for the community on Tuesday at Saint John the Baptist Church in Plum. Three of the victims were parishioners.
Plum Mustangs honor Keegan Clontz
The 12-year-old boy was a member of the Plum Mustangs youth football program, and on Wednesday during practice, his No. 40 jersey was placed on the goalpost and his initials covered the 40-yard line.
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