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Uncapped, abandoned gas line caused Firestone home explosion

Abandoned, severed gas line that was still connected to nearby oil and gas well at the root of deadly home explosion

Credit: @neosecho
A home explosion in Firestone Monday killed two and sent two people to the hospital. (Photo: Dennis Herrera)

An abandoned, severed gas line that was still connected to a nearby oil and gas well was at the root of a deadly home explosion in Firestone on April 17, investigators announced Tuesday afternoon.

Ted Poszywak, chief of the Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District, said the cut line allowed an unrefined odorless mixture of propane, methane and other elements of gas to seep into the home through drains and a sump pit in the basement.

The April 17 blast at 6312 Twilight Ave. in Firestone killed brothers-in-law Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin III, both 42, and critically injured Erin Martinez, Mark Martinez’s wife who is a science teacher at Mountain Range High School.

The couple’s 11-year-old son was also hurt, although he was released from the hospital the same day and is with family.

Friends and family members have told 9NEWS they believed the two men were working on a water heater at the time of the explosion and subsequent fire, although Poszywak said investigators were still trying to determine what ignited the gas that had built up in the home.

“I want to stress this: There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the deaths of Mark Martinez or Joey Irwin, his brother-in-law, was the result of any criminal, or improper activity on their part,” Poszywak said.

The oil and gas well that is located about 170 feet from the home was first drilled in 1993. Originally, two lines – one two inches in diameter, one an inch in diameter – curved away from the well to the northwest toward a battery of oil tanks.

Those tanks were removed years ago. In 2015, construction was completed on the Martinez home. It may have been during construction that the two lines – located about seven feet below ground – were severed near the southwest corner of the home’s foundation.

During the investigation into the explosion, Poszywak said inspectors found that one of the lines was disconnected from the nearby well and properly capped. The other line, however, was connected to a valve at the well that was in the “on” position.

Property records show Mark and Erin Martinez bought the home in March 2015.

The well, in the meantime, had been in and out of service over the years. Poszywak said, for example, it was shut down during all of 2016 before it was re-started by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. on Jan. 28.

From that point on, the volatile mix of gases was apparently seeping into the soil around the Martinez home and eventually leaked into the home through drains and window wells in the basement.

About 4:45 p.m. on April 17, something ignited the gas, and the resulting explosion demolished the home and shook the ground for blocks in every direction.

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The initial investigation led Anadarko to shut down 3,000 wells similar to the one located in a field southeast of the Firestone home. The wells account for 13,000 net barrels of production each day, Anadarko officials said.

The explosion leveled the home in the Oak Meadows subdivision, and the subsequent fire was intense.
The bodies of the two men who died were located in the basement the following day.

Fire officials are investigating reports from family members that a new water heater had recently been installed in the home but have been unable to determine if that is true. Irwin, a state-licensed master-plumber, was summoned to the home because there was a problem, according to the owner of a business where he was working when he got a call from Erin Martinez, his sister.

Numerous questions, however, remained unanswered Tuesday.

For example, Poszywak said that natural gas service to the home was interrupted about 2:30 p.m. the day before the explosion. But it is not clear why – it is only clear that the furnace and water heater in the home were not in operation in the hours leading up to the blast.

Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: kevin.vaughan@9news.com or 303-871-1862.

Editor’s note: Investigators with the Frederick-Firestone Fire Protection District have been unable to determine whether a water heater had been recently installed in this home. An earlier version of this story was incorrect on that point.

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