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October’s explosion in Northwest Baltimore caused by failed gas meter, fire department says; insurance companies still investigating

The October explosion that injured three adults and two children in Northwest Baltimore originated from a gas leak, which was ignited when a resident attempted to light a cigarette inside their home, according to a report from the Baltimore City Fire Department.

The center of the blast was a closet inside 4633 Lanier Ave. that contained a gas meter, officials said. The meter failed, leading to a buildup of natural gas, said fire department spokesman Chief Roman Clark on Thursday.

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But Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. said Thursday that it is still working with insurance companies to investigate the cause of the incident and that a laboratory is evaluating the company equipment — including the gas meter — plus six gas-fed appliances in 4633 and 4635 Lanier Ave.

During a news conference Tuesday, Baltimore Fire Chief Niles R. Ford said officials were not able to gather all the data off the gas meter in the closet to conclusively determine whether it malfunctioned. But inspectors have pinpointed the meter as the cause, Clark said.

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The injured people were a pregnant woman; two children, ages 3 and 4; and two men. All were in serious but stable condition after the explosion, officials said at the time. They have been treated and released from the hospital, Ford said Tuesday.

Left to right: Baltimore Fire Chief Niles Ford, Mayor Brandon Scott and City Councilwoman Sharon Middleton hold a news conference Feb. 23, 2021, to discuss an October explosion that damaged several homes on the 4600 block of Lanier Avenue in Northwest Baltimore.
Left to right: Baltimore Fire Chief Niles Ford, Mayor Brandon Scott and City Councilwoman Sharon Middleton hold a news conference Feb. 23, 2021, to discuss an October explosion that damaged several homes on the 4600 block of Lanier Avenue in Northwest Baltimore. (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

The blast happened just two months after a gas explosion killed two people and leveled several homes a few miles away on Labyrinth Road. That was caused by a gas leak after HVAC maintenance work was done in a home. It was ignited by a stove, officials said.

“We are incredibly thankful that lives were not claimed in this incident,” Ford said of the Lanier Avenue explosion.

More than four months later, the condemned houses have not been demolished. Fencing cordons off the boarded-up houses, and heaps of wreckage remain on the ground where debris fell from the blast or was left by rescue crews. The siding, some of it melted, hangs off the houses in several places.

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It’s a constant reminder of that tragic October day, said Cherring A. Spence, president of the Parklane Neighborhood Association.

“We would just like those houses to come down and that area just really secured until they decide what they’re going to do with the property,” Spence said.

Ongoing investigations into the explosion have stalled that process, said Steven Klein, a manager with the Mount Washington Group, which owns the homes.

“Because it’s an open investigation, the management is not allowed to do anything with it,” Klein said.

The plan is to eventually demolish the destroyed homes and rebuild them, he said.

“The intention is to definitely bring the property back and invest in the neighborhood,” Klein said.

Taken on Feb. 23, 2021, this photo shows the wreckage of an October explosion that injured several people and displaced families living on Lanier Avenue.
Taken on Feb. 23, 2021, this photo shows the wreckage of an October explosion that injured several people and displaced families living on Lanier Avenue. (Christine Condon)

While no one was killed in the Oct. 11 explosion, Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott said, “the devastation is still fresh in our minds.”

“The devastation of the homes destroyed, the devastation of 11 families who were impacted, not knowing where to begin to pick up the pieces,” Scott said. “But also, I remember witnessing the community that banded together to support those who were impacted.”

Fire department investigators reviewed 911 calls and “had no calls on that day pertaining to gas,” Ford said.

In calls to 911, panicked neighbors described a powerful explosion on the night of Oct. 11. They likened the sound to that of a plane crash, and the sights to those of an action movie, as they described the ensuing blaze to dispatchers.

At the time, BGE said it hadn’t found any natural gas readings or leaks from service pipes leading to the destroyed homes. There hadn’t been any calls about a gas odor at the property before the blast, the company said.

Ford said BGE assisted with the investigation.

City Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, a Democrat, commended the people who helped in the aftermath of the blast.

”There are so many individuals in this community that stepped up just to help these families that were suffering,” she said.

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