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Family of woman killed in Bath building explosion seeks answers

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Family of woman killed in Bath building explosion seeks answers

BATH — The family of a woman who died Feb. 12 in an apartment-building explosion has hired a lawyer and wants more information about the cause of the tragedy, with particular questions about a building heater.

Portland attorney Terry Garmey, who is representing the family of Dale Ann Fussell, said last week that "it's important that (they get) whatever measure of justice is available to them in Maine. It's also very important to them that they understand why this happened. ... They don't want this to happen to any other family here in Maine or anywhere else."

A propane gas leak caused the building explosion at about 5 a.m. It leveled the duplex at 29-31 Bluff Road in the Atlantic Townhouse Apartment complex, killing 64-year-old Dale Ann Fussell and launching debris throughout the neighborhood.

The state fire marshal's office, with help from Maine's Fuel Board inspectors, traced the explosion to a leak from a gas line connecting an outdoor propane tank to two gas heaters, according to Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

McCausland said the leak was in an outside wall of the building, and that the fumes likely seeped into a crawl space beneath the building, where they were ignited by an unknown source.

The leak was in the wall of 31 Bluff Road. Resident Kenneth Hooper had left for work at a nearby McDonald's about 30 minutes before the explosion, and returned home afterward to find the building in rubble.

"We're all trying hard to find out how this could ever happen," Garmey said.

The attorney said the heater may have been replaced the night before the explosion.

"We do know that very reliable people tell us that (Fussell) had complained about the heat in her apartment the day before the explosion," Garmey said, "and we do believe that (she) told at least one very credible person that the heating unit in her apartment had been swapped out the night before the explosion."

Danielle Pinette, who works for property management company Keystone Management, said Monday that the case is still being investigated. She said Fussell had lived there for about 10 years and was one of her favorite tenants.

Bath Fire Chief Steve Hinds said last week that he has not had any issues with Keystone, or with Pinette.

"We don't have an over-abundance of calls out there," Hinds said of the neighborhood, also known as Hyde Park. "We go there obviously when we're needed. And any time we go ... they have someone on scene, anything we need they take care of, any questions, any paperwork ... they are very good to work with."

Hinds said his department has investigated propane odor reports twice in the past three years in the neighborhood, but in both cases, nothing was found. "That wouldn't be considered a real over-abundance of that type of call," he said.

After the fire was extinguished, the chief said, "we went through the night, until 5 the next morning, and tested every tank and set of pipes that lead into units, in that entire 142-unit development, (and found) nothing that stood out."

Hinds noted that representatives from Keystone and propane provider Irving Oil were involved in the process and that minor problems were fixed on the spot.

The fire marshal's investigation is continuing. "It's very early on for anything like a final analysis," the chief said. "I don't expect that to come for quite some time."

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.