State Police probe Harper Woods house explosion after gas spike

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Harper Woods — Michigan State Police have taken over the investigation into a house explosion that injured several people Friday morning, leaving a debris field in a densely populated neighborhood.

DTE Energy Co. confirmed the home, which was located on the 20800 block of Lennon, near the Interstate 94 Service Drive just south of Vernier, had a "higher natural gas spike" after midnight following minimal gas usage.

Two people entering the house to do an appraisal were blown onto the front lawn after the house, which appeared to have filled up was gas, blew up at 10:31 a.m. Friday morning, injuring the pair, a 66-year-old man and a 33-year-old woman. 

"The house, as you can see behind me, has completely been knocked down," Harper Woods Public Safety Department Director Jim Burke said. "We believe it's a gas explosion at this time."

Both remain in critical condition, police said Friday afternoon. An adjacent neighbor also was treated and released from the hospital.

Burke said investigators believe it might have been a gas explosion set off when one of the injured people opened the house’s door.

"We believe one person was opening the door and it caused a spark," Burke said. "Our thinking right now is the house was full of gas, he opened the door and caused the spark. That gentleman on the porch was knocked off the porch onto the lawn. 

"His partner was walking up behind him. (She) was also knocked down on the ground. When our officers arrived, there were two victims on the grass on the front lawn." 

Michigan State Police F/Lt. Mike Shaw said investigators plan on returning to the scene on Monday. 

Tonya Griffith works in an office on Harper near where the explosion happened.

“It sounded like a bomb,” the 53-year-old from Grosse Pointe said. “Books were falling off the shelves in our office’s library. It was a loud explosion.”

She said she ran out of her building and saw the flattened house.

Burke said nearby buildings sustained significant damage and officers evacuated a half-mile radius as a precaution. Most nearby residences and buildings have since been cleared for re-entry.

The house was located in the 20800 block of Lennon Street, near the I-94 Service Drive, just south of Vernier.

DTE Energy Co. will dig up the gas line to determine the safety of the area, he said. 

The utility said it was too soon to confirm whether the explosion was caused by a natural gas leak. 

"Our heartfelt concern goes out to those who were injured today at the Harper Woods home," the company said in a tweet at about 1:30 p.m. Friday. "We are supporting the investigation into the incident and until the investigation is complete we will not speculate on the cause."

DTE added: "Out of an overabundance of caution, we have crews on-site and have measured pressure on the main and it is within our operating guidelines. We have also completed leak testing within the impacted area and at this time have concluded there are no leaks."

DTE Energy also reminds customers if they smell natural gas to get to safety and call (800) 947-5000.