An explosion likely caused by a natural gas leak that obliterated a rural West Virginia house and killed an 11-year-old girl was so powerful it blew out the windows of a nearby fire station, sent plywood siding rocketing nearly 50 feet into the air and shot boards through other houses.
"We've got a debris field of over 500 feet in diameter all over the place," West Virginia Deputy Fire Marshal Reed Cook said Friday afternoon, hours after the morning blast.
In addition to the fatality, the girl's parents and a sister were injured and taken to hospitals.
Authorities did not identify the dead girl. But the Brooke County Sheriff's Office said all of the injured people were from a single family and said the residence in Follansbee belonged to George and Tracy Mozingo.
The explosion shook the neighborhood on Eldersville Road around 7:07 a.m.
About a half-hour earlier, a neighbor had called 911 to report a gas leak. The fire department responded but found nothing, Mr. Cook said.
Firefighters left, and a short time later the house exploded.
"We had fire companies here. It was under investigation. And within moments we had the explosion," Brooke County Sheriff Chuck Jackson said.
The blast damaged three other houses, knocking one off its foundation, Mr. Cook said.
Investigators believe the blast occurred in the basement of the family's frame, quad-level house. But they do not know yet whether gas leaked inside the house or seeped in from outside.
Either way, when the gas reached a high enough concentration, even the most mundane action could have deadly consequences.
"Once the mixture is the right mixture, all it takes is a light switch being switched on or a pilot light to cause the explosion," Mr. Cook said.
Various police, fire and paramedic services responded to the scene.
The girl's father was taken by helicopter to UPMC Mercy, while her mother and sister went by ambulance to nearby Trinity Medical Center West in Steubenville.
Mr. Mozingo was in critical condition; his wife was in stable condition.
The fire marshal's office is being assisted by the Mountaineer Gas Co., the utility which provides gas service to the area, and state gas pipeline experts.
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Jonathan D. Silver: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg. First Published October 10, 2013 8:10 PM