- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2006

An explosion that destroyed a Capitol Heights home yesterday morning was caused because somebody tampered with its gas lines, Prince George’s County fire investigators said.

Firefighters responding to the blast at about 8:45 a.m. found the home in the 900 block of Nova Avenue “destroyed,” said Mark Brady, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department.

Washington Gas officials said records indicate that in May the house’s gas meter was removed and service was stopped. However, an unknown person altered the lines to allow natural gas service into the house, according to investigators.

Tim Sargeant, a utility company spokesman, said an employee discovered irregularities in the gas line when at the home June 23 in response to a request to restore service.

“We’re working closely with the Prince George’s County Fire Department to determine what occurred,” Mr. Sargeant said.

Civil and criminal charges could be filed if the person responsible is identified, county officials said.

The incident began at about 8:30 a.m. when the property owner smelled gas inside the home, then evacuated on the advice of the utility company.

Two men walking through the rubble at the home in the afternoon — Gemal Raju and Zayed Tasew — identified themselves as the owners.

The explosion caused a small fire and an estimated $200,000 in damage inside the one-story home, which was for sale and not permanently occupied.

The explosion also caused minor damage to nearby homes and cut off gas service to three of them, Mr. Sargeant said. However, no injuries were reported.

There were an estimated 1,400 gas leaks over the past several years in a 100-square-mile area in Prince George’s County, according to a study released by Washington Gas in 2005. The company said the leaks were caused in part by oldequipment and a liquefied natural gas it imported that deteriorated the rubber rings that connect underground pipes.

The explosion yesterday came three days after a four-story building in Manhattan collapsed in a massive explosion caused by a gas leak.

Investigators confirmed Tuesday that a gas line had been tampered with before the house was destroyed. Officials suspected that the building’s owner set off the blast in a suicide attempt during a bitter divorce.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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