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Fatal Berlin Explosion Caused by Propane Leak 

BERLINThe April explosion that claimed one person’s life, injured another, and destroyed a family home was caused by propane gas leaking from a propane tank into the basement of the structure, where it was ignited by an undetermined source, said Berlin Fire Chief Michael A. McQuillen, Berlin Police Chief Eric J. Schartner, State Fire Marshal Jon M. Davine, and Worcester County District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr.

The explosion in the early morning hours of April 14 caused catastrophic damage to a single-family home at 71 Pleasant St. A 79-year-old woman suffered fatal injuries and another adult was transported from the scene with injuries that were not life-threatening. The explosion also damaged three neighboring homes and two vehicles. The Berlin Fire Department battled the flames for about an hour and a half with support from the fire departments of Bolton, Clinton, Harvard, Hopkinton, Hudson, Marlborough, Northborough, Shirley, Sterling, and Stow.

Berlin and state investigators determined that, on the evening of April 13, residents smelled propane in the back yard where two 100-pound liquid propane gas cylinders were located. They notified the Knight Fuel Company of the apparent leak, and an employee removed that tank to a location about 20 feet from the home. Investigators collectively determined that the tank continued to leak propane gas, which is heavier than air and traveled into the home’s basement through the fieldstone foundation and basement walkout. Shortly before 3:30 am, that gas was ignited and caused an explosion that completely demolished the structure. The building’s total collapse made it impossible to determine the exact ignition source but investigators found no evidence that it was suspicious in nature.

Code compliance officers from the Department of Fire Services determined that the Knight Fuel Company violated the Massachusetts Comprehensive Fire Safety Code by storing more than 42 pounds of propane without a permit; failing to notify the Berlin Fire Department of the leaking tank; filling and delivering out-of-date propane cylinders to the Pleasant Street home; failing to notify the property owner that the leaking cylinder was out of date; and other actions. A notice of violation was issued to Knight Fuel Company in the course of the investigation.

The investigation was conducted jointly by the Berlin Fire Department, Berlin Police Department, State Police Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit assigned to the State Fire Marshal’s office, and State Police assigned to the Worcester County District Attorney’s office. Investigators were supported by the Department of Fire Services’ Code Compliance & Enforcement Unit.