Fort Benjamin Harrision, IN Natural Gas Explosion, Dec 1990


Indianapolis (AP) - The Fort Benjamin Harrison natural gas explosion that killed 5-year-old girl was triggered by a spark from an unknown source, according to military investigators.
Of the 17 people injured, six people remained hospitalized today. GAIL NIEDENTHAL, 31, was in critical condition at Wishard Hospital. CRYSTAL BELL, 9, was in serious condition at Riley Hospital for Children.
Four others were moved to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, the only armed services hospital with a burn unit.
They are BELL'S father, SGT. STONEY BELL, 35; STAFF SGT. ALBERT SIMS, 31; SIM'S wife, CORA, 26; and their son, DONTE, 4. All were listed in critical condition.
They were injured Sunday night when the blast ripped through a four-unit apartment building at the fort, starting a fire that spread to and heavily damaged a second building.
Killed was JENNAE ENCARNACION, daughter of Army Sgt. Adolpho Encarnacion and his wife, Tracy.
Stewart Goodwin, the post's safety officer, said representatives of the Indiana state fire marshal's office have inspected a stove taken from one of the apartments.
Gas pipeline experts from the National Transportation Safety Board, appliance repair experts and other people will check the stove to see if it was the source of a leak.
Goodwin said conclusive answers may have to wait for now.
"We have people (who live) in these buildings we haven't been able to talk to yet," Goodwin said, referring to the injured.
A gas leak had been reported more than three hours before the explosion. Gas service was interrupted shortly after that, but it was restored to most of the apartment complex except for an area where a crack was found in the welding of a pipe, investigators said.
The explosion, in an area away from the original crack, occurred about 20 minutes after gas service was restored.
Col. R. W. Sweeney, the fort's chief of staff, said it was possible gas leaked into one of the apartments from a furnace or hot water heater with a faulty shut-off valve.
Investigators also are considering the possibility a resident did not turn off a burner on a stove when the gas service was interrupted.
On Tuesday the fort announced that Citizens Gas and Coke Utility, which supplies gas to the base but is not responsible for maintaining the lines, will install new gas lines and service them.
Sweeney said fort procedures will change as a result of the accident.
"Anytime we turn off the gas, every single family's access valve will personally be shut off by our people. An engineer will have to turn them back on," he said. "Once we have gas service back to each unit, experts will bring the appliances on line."

Kokomo Tribune Indiana 1990-12-13