SCHENECTADY The vacant house that exploded at 310 Paige St. in Schenectady Sunday afternoon was owned by the city and officials confirmed that no one was trapped in the rubble.
Schenectady Building Inspector Eric Shilling said the city was looking to sell the house, which was in bad shape and could have ultimately been demolished without a buyer.
Excavators from DiTonno & Sons were cleaning up debris Monday after the house exploded from an apparent gas leak. No one was injured. National Grid has not yet confirmed the cause of the explosion.
“Compared to previous cases, all things point to a natural gas explosion,” said Wayne Bennett, Schenectady’s public safety commissioner. “Nothing else in the building would have caused that type of damage. But we’re still not sure what triggered the explosion.”
Most of the homeowners on Paige Street who were displaced by the explosion were allowed back into their homes after a majority of debris was removed.
But workers were on high alert Monday evening while clearing debris after the street was evacuated again around 5 p.m. because of another small gas leak. National Grid secured the line, however, and crews got back to work about a half hour later.
The destroyed property is under the Schenectady Urban Renewal Agency after it was taken over by the city in August 2012. It was foreclosed on after the house’s previous owner, James Miller, failed to pay more than $14,000 in taxes dating to 2009.
The total assessed value of the property was $58,700, according to county records. Four other houses on Paige Street — 323, 534, 536 and 544 — were also taken in foreclosure by the city two years ago.
The locks on the house were changed two weeks ago and the power was left on to show the place to prospective buyers, Shilling said. He said power is generally left on to foreclosed houses.
“These are wooden structures,” he said. “They are possible to break into. But it may have been just an old infrastructure pipe.”
But Shilling said after the explosion, the city is rethinking its policy of keeping the power on at foreclosed homes.
“We now are in active discussions. . . . Certainly we’ll look at them as we approach the cold weather season,” he said. “A vacant property without power [in winter] can be attractive [for break-ins].”
People who live on Paige Street were asked to evacuate their homes Sunday. Monday morning they were allowed to go in and out but the power and gas lines to the street were shut off.
Luis Nazario, 29, lives next door to the destroyed house at 304 Paige St. He said the house has been vacant for more than a year, but he frequently saw two people — a man and a woman — go into the house through the back door.
“I saw a woman leave [Sunday] morning, but the man could have been in there when the house exploded,” Nazario said.
Bennett said police questioned a woman who might have been in and out of the home before the explosion occurred, and they obtained the name of the man who might have been traveling with her.
Thomas Batcher, 30, also lives next-door to the collapsed house at 314 Paige St. He said he smelled gas in the area for several days, but did not report it to National Grid.
Looking for an answer
National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella confirmed on Monday that no one reported a possible gas leak on Paige Street in the past two weeks. He said if it had been reported, a crew would have searched the area immediately.
Stella said National Grid is working to pinpoint the cause of the explosion and expects to have an answer as early as today.
“Gas explosions are very rare,” he said. “We don’t see this very often. This particular home was vacant and we were trying to gain access to the home.”
Batcher and Nazario are both left with structural damage to their homes from the explosion. Nazario said the windows on the side of his house were blown in and a large beam is sitting in his living room.
“At first I thought it was my house that exploded,” Nazario said. He was not home at the time of the incident, but his father was in the living room watching television.
“I got home in about five minutes after that,” he said. “We have some structural damage to the first floor and some of the windows are destroyed.”
Vince Calhoun, 50, lives at 315 Paige St. across from the leveled house. On Monday he was picking up pieces of the house that were blown into his yard and putting them in the big pile of rubble across the street for excavators to remove.
“Half the front of the house was laying in my driveway,” he said. “I called 911 right after it happened and the dust was so thick I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face.”
Calhoun said he was coming home from grocery shopping before the explosion occurred. Seconds after he got inside and closed the front door, the house across the street was gone.
“Right after I walked in the door the house exploded,” he said. “I’m still in shock that there isn’t a house there anymore.”