Councilman: South Philly explosion linked to careless smoking [photos]

A gas leak coupled with careless smoking may have led to yesterday’s row house explosion in South Philadelphia, according to Philadelphia City Councilman Mark Squilla.

Squilla, who represents the district, told reporters at the site this morning he understood the blast was triggered by a contractor installing a hot-water heater at 428 Daly St.

“He was in there trying to do something with the hot-water heater,” Squilla said. “He had supposedly went in the building, tried to do it, went out, came back in. Sometime during that process he lit a cigarette. When that happened, the house exploded.”

“Obviously there was a gas leak within the property,” Squilla said. “We don’t know if it was related to the hot-water heater or somewhere else when he tried to turn it on.”

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The contractor was seriously burned and is listed in critical condition at Temple University Hospital. Seven other people were injured in the incident, none seriously.

Investigators are still combing over the site of the explosion, and officials haven’t yet indicated a cause of the disaster. Mayor Michael Nutter has scheduled a 3 p.m. briefing for reporters.

428 Daly St. was an unoccupied home that was being remodeled. After the explosion, that building collapsed, along with the properties on either side at 426 and 430 Daly St.

The owner of 428 Daly, according to city records, is SCK Investments, L.L.C. President Cathy Finney-Hughes hasn’t responded to a request for comment. Executive Secretary Steve Finney told a reporter yesterday he had “no comment” and hung up.

CBS 3 reports that Dell Kean-Finney, husband of Steve Finney, confirmed the firm bought the Daly Street property in March of this year. “Truly, our prayers and our concerns are for anyone [who] in any way, to any degree, has gotten hurt,” Kean-Finney told CBS.

The city recently issued four permits for the house where the blast took place. They were for interior alterations, as well as electrical, plumbing and furnace work.

It may be several days before debris at the site of the explosion is cleared. Demolition Contractor Jim DiBartolo is one of those bidding on the contract to tear down the three homes.

“Right now they are going to clean debris in order for the investigators to get into the property so they can properly look [and] investigate,” DiBartolo said at the site this morning. “Once that procedure is completed, they will have the contractors come in who are awarded the bid.”

The whole process could take a week to 10 days.

Holly Otterbein, Elizabeth Fiedler and Kelly Lawler contributed to this story.

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