Middletown explosion, Hamilton restaurant fire highlight gas leak safety

Two recent Butler County fires that displaced 10 apartment residents and temporarily closed a Hamilton restaurant show the dangers of faulty gas lines and leaking gas.

On Tuesday, a kitchen fire broke out at Kostas Restaurant, 221 Court St., which had recently re-opened under new ownership after months of renovations. Hamilton Fire Chief Mark Mercer said the blaze was accidental and believed to have started in a faulty gas line or gas connection to the griddle.

The fire caused an estimated $45,000 in damage to the cooking appliance and interior furnishings, Mercer said.

The City of Hamilton gas department will check on the restaurant’s gas lines, he said.

Earlier this month, natural gas escaping from piping led to the explosion of a Middletown apartment building that seriously injured one resident and displaced 10, officials said.

Lt. Frank Baughman, city fire marshal, said the natural gas permeated the nearby apartments and that the furnace unit in Apt. 422 ignited the gas, which caused the explosion about 11:30 a.m. Dec. 2 at the Townhomes West apartment complex in the 400 block of Cribbs Avenue.

MORE: 10 residents seeking permanent housing after Middletown apartment explosion

Ken Klouda, fire prevention bureau chief for the State Fire Marshal's office, said fires blamed on furnaces or portable space heaters are "preventable" if routine maintenance is performed and safety precautions are taken.

He said business and home owners should have their furnaces inspected yearly by a licensed technician. He said that way cracks ad leaks can be possibly detected before starting a fire.

Furnace filters also should be checked every month for dirt even if they are to be replaced every three months. Klouda said he has a monthly reminder on his cell phone to check his filters and smoke detectors in his house.

Carbon monoxide detectors should be replaced every five years and smoke detectors every 10 years, he said.

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Portable space heaters can be effective, he said, as long as certain safety steps are taken. They should only be used when the resident is home and awake and be shut off at night. Klouda said the heaters should have switches that automatically turns them off if they tip over.

Ben Jones, executive director of the Butler Metro Housing Authority, said preventative maintenance typically is performed on the public housing apartments every January and that unit was inspected again in September. He said the agency is looking through records to make sure there were no issues with the apartment heating unit when it was last checked.

The apartments have been condemned by the City of Middletown because they’re uninhabitable, according to a city official. The city will notify BMHA it must demolish or rebuild the structure, according to an official. Jones said after meeting with the insurance adjuster, he will determine the “best path for the future” of the 44-year-old building.

Here are some of the most common, life-saving tips for heating homes safely this fall winter:

  • All heaters need space. Keep anything that can burn at least three feet away from any heaters.
  • Never use ovens and stoves to heat your home.
  • Always turn off space heaters when leaving a room or going to bed.
  • Space heaters should be plugged directly into the wall. Power strips and extension cords will overheat too quickly when a heater is plugged in to them.
  • When using a fuel-burning space heater, open a window to reduce carbon monoxide exposure and ensure proper ventilation.
  • Know your community's regulations for the use of kerosene heaters. These are illegal in some jurisdictions.
  • Always use the correct fuel for your heating appliance. Never add a fuel that is not meant for that equipment.
  • Burn only dry, seasoned wood in your wood-burning stove or fireplace. It is cleaner for the environment and reduces flammable buildup in the chimney.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them inspected each year by a qualified professional.
  • Remember: burning any fuel, including wood, creates carbon monoxide. Install carbon monoxide alarms that are listed by a qualified testing laboratory. Installing them to manufacturer instructions will help provide early warning to related dangers.

SOURCE: State Fire Marshal’s office