The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 9, 2014

5 firefighters hurt in blast during house fire — VIDEO

Officials suspect oxygen tank in Crab Orchard home caused explosion

CRAB ORCHARD — A Crab Orchard house explosion that injured five firefighters Tuesday night was likely caused by an oxygen tank belonging to one of the residents, while local officials later in the day traced the fire to a hot water heater that had been moved after pipes froze.

The ruins of the home were still smoldering Wednesday and some small spots were still burning in the ash and debris. Live rounds of ammunition that had been stored in the house popped off in the heat.


Firefighters were dispatched to the Hatfield Road house at 6:07 p.m. Tuesday, according to Raleigh County Emergency Operations Center dispatchers.

Sophia City Fire Department Chief Jeff Pittman said the fire was fully involved when firefighters arrived.

A neighbor had already assisted in removing a wheelchair-bound resident from the home, he added, and all five of the residents had been evacuated when Sophia Area firefighters arrived.

About 20 minutes after responders from Sophia Area, Sophia City, Coal City, Lester, Mabscott and Rhodell began pumping water onto the home in an effort to save it, Pittman said, the explosion occurred.

Originating from an area near the house’s chimney, the force sent the firefighters airborne, throwing them several feet toward the ice-covered road.

The firefighters were treated for injuries including a concussion, a sprained elbow and an injured knee, he reported.

The fire departments extinguished the blaze and cleared the scene at 11:45 p.m.

Icy road conditions resulted in a slightly delayed response time, according to a spokesman with Beaver Volunteer Fire Department.

Not only did the firefighters have to drive on icy roads to get to the fire departments, the fire trucks also had to make it up Hatfield Road — not an easy feat, verified Pittman.

“Hatfield Road was a solid sheet of ice last night,” Pittman said Wednesday.

One fire truck got stuck in a ditch near the street, he added.

Pittman said the cold temperatures, which were in the single digits at that time Tuesday night, didn’t affect the firefighters since they were working so closely to the flames.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office has not yet ruled on the official cause of the fire.

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According to Theresa Becker, a former resident of the home, the household was headed by 43-year-old Joseph Becker.

Junior Ewing, 58, and his teenaged son also lived in the home, along with Joseph Becker’s teenage son and a 59-year-old physically disabled man who was confined to a wheelchair, said Theresa Becker.

One of the residents wasn’t at home when the fire broke out, Becker reported.

Theresa Becker was recently divorced from Joseph Becker. She and the couple’s 13-year-old daughter had just moved out of the house around Thanksgiving, she said.

“They lost everything,” Becker reported. “The house was his mom’s; he didn’t have to pay rent.”

Three dogs in the home were all accounted for, and chickens kept on the back of the carport weren’t harmed by the fire, Becker reported.

But one pet hadn’t been found Wednesday morning.

“I don’t know where my daughter’s cat is,” said Becker. “We had it seven years.”

Ewing was at the smoldering property Thursday, along with a teenage boy, to try to salvage any possessions they could.

He said he found a lawn mower that appeared to be functional.

Ewing reported that the water lines in the home had frozen, so the water heater had been moved to a room near the carport.

That’s where he saw fire around 6 p.m., he said.

“From there, it just burst into flames,” he said. “I was getting ready for bed.

“Joseph said, ‘Everybody needs to get out.’”

Ewing said he had just enough time to get dressed and put on a coat before leaving the blazing house.

“It was very cold,” he said. “Very nasty, and very cold.”

Matthew Tennant, 14, lives next door.

He said he heard two loud noises Tuesday evening.

“At first it was kind of a loud pop,” he said. “Then the fire department started spraying the house and told us we could come back inside our house.

“And then it blew up again.

“My mom was scared,” he said. “We thought it was going to hit our house.”

Tennant said his family was evacuated once again, then allowed back in their own home around 8:30 p.m.

Pittman said the “pops” Tennant heard were possibly live ammunition rounds exploding in the fire.

The American Red Cross has offered help for the family, said Pittman.

A neighbor reported that the displaced victims have clothing.

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