Explosion’s cause attributed to natural gas

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

The cause of an explosion that killed a Portales woman has been attributed to natural gas, according to members of her family.

Family members of the owner of the home, Clytie Calton, said they were briefed by an investigator from the state fire marshal’s office along with Portales Fire Department officials Tuesday.

Mikel Ward, an investigator with the fire marshal’s office, who works out of Alamogordo told the PNT that his investigation was complete but he was unable to immediately share the results. He said he expected to issue a press release on the cause late this week or early next week.

On Thursday the family talked with the PNT and shared an e-mail to friends about what they learned during their meeting.

They said that about 20 years ago new PVC plumbing was installed and connected to older cast iron plumbing where it exits the house. Those connections were made with a rubber boot, said granddaughter Sandy Fields in an e-mail. She said one of those connections developed a slow drip that leaked onto a gas pipe which over a period of what investigators said could have been several years the pipe corroded. At some point, possibly months, said Fields, gas began to seep into the crawl space under the house.

Fields said the house was so well built that the gas had no place to escape from the crawl space and it eventually accumlated in deadly concentration.

She said gas was still able to travel through the pipe prior to the explosion, so appliances continued to work.

Family members said investigators speculated that a pilot light could have been the source of ignition but were unable to say for sure.

“We want people to know about the explosion, and that it was just a terrible accident and the fault rests on no one’s shoulders,” Fields said.

“They (investigators) were so kind to continually point out that there was no way anyone could have known, and nothing any of us could have done,” she said. “With our family, they were just so grateful that the house wasn’t full of people, and that my father Bill (Calton) was safe.”

Clytie Calton’s son Gary Calton said the family was satisfied with the investigation authorities had done, even though it had been stressful not being able to get back into the house for a week. He complimented both the fire marshal and PFD for their efforts
Thursday afternoon family members had just finished up moving family keepsakes from the home. They said the house will be a total loss.

Gary Calton said the roof of the home had been completely lifted up. He pointed out a box of cereal and a phone that had been blown through the ceiling and rested between walls and roof joists where they were trapped when the roof came back down.

“We’ve recovered a lot of treasures,” said granddaughter Kim Mann. “No one’s worried now.”

“The greatest thing about this is we still have our brother,” Gary Calton said, referring to Bill Calton who was in the home at the time of the explosion. “We’re still astounded at how he wasn’t hurt.”

Gary Calton said the one thing he learned from the investigation was that people may want to check into venting crawlspaces in homes that don’t have venting.

“If this house had a vent to the crawl space it probably never would have happened,” Gary Calton said.