EXPLOSION

Granite Avenue residents face uncertainty after explosion

2011-06-10T17:23:00Z 2011-06-11T09:00:05Z Granite Avenue residents face uncertainty after explosionBy ROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
June 10, 2011 5:23 pm  • 

Bolted to the Rimrocks above the neighborhood around Granite Avenue is a small, metal sculpture of an angel looking down on the houses below.

Ossie Abrams, who lives across the street to the west of the blackened remains of Gary Woltermann's home, thinks it's a pretty good thing that angel is there.

"The angel was looking over all the humans in the neighborhood (on Wednesday)," she said.

The explosion of Woltermann's house Wednesday morning shattered the windows and two glass doors on the north side of the home she shares with husband David Orser and destroyed her garage and kitchen.

Her front yard is littered with debris from the accident. She's been cleaning shattered glass out of nearly every room in her house.

"We have worked on this house for 20 years and now I'm looking at total devastation," she said. Then, smiling, she added, "I'm not running out of work for a while."

Abrams' home is still livable. The house across the street, just next door to Woltermann's on the west, was declared a "restricted occupancy."

"Our department inspected that," said Kim Palmieri, manager of the city's Building Division. "We restricted occupancy until a structural engineer can check it out."

The homeowners, Joseph and Dorothy Larango, have been allowed back in to retrieve belongings.

Next door to Abrams, and directly across the street from the explosion, the home of Blake and Martha Mitchell was declared unsafe and can't be entered.

The third house, next-door to Woltermann's on the east, owned by Mary Ann Kraske, also was declared a "restricted occupancy."

All three homes require an inspection from a structural engineer to evaluate the damage and the safety of the buildings before anything else can happen.

"Right now it's going to be a little bit of a waiting game," said Mike Spini, the city fire marshal who is heading the investigation.

An engineer has been inside the Larango home, he said. He thinks the same engineer visited Harrison Fagg's home, which is directly behind and above Woltermann's place.

Investigators believe the explosion Wednesday morning, which leveled Woltermann's home and damaged the surrounding houses, may have been caused by a gas leak.

But it'll be a while before anything definitive is known.

All the parties involved -- the insurance companies of the homeowners, Montana-Dakota Utilities, the Fire Department and probably the companies that manufactured the gas-run appliances in the home -- will conduct their own investigations of the explosion, Spini said.

After the cause of the explosion can be determined, settlements can be worked out. A first meeting of the players involved will likely happen by the end of the month, Spini said.

"It's going to take a while," he said.

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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