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Queens Chronicle

Howard Beach home explosion a mystery

Fire Department says it has ruled out Rapid Repairs work as cause

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Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:40 am, Thu Jun 13, 2013.

What caused Joseph and Theresa Pepitone’s Howard Beach home to explode on May 29?

The answer is still under investigation, according to the FDNY, but the department said it does not believe the cause to be tied to recent work done on the home’s gas main by a contractor hired through the city’s Rapid Repairs program.

The home, at 162-39 84 St., burst into flames around 2 p.m. on May 29 in a loud explosion that led some neighbors to think a plane from nearby JFK Airport had crashed into the neighborhood.

Theresa Pepitone was in the house at the time of the explosion and suffered severe burns. She was taken to Cornell Medical Center’s burn unit and was still listed in critical condition as of Monday. No one else was hurt in the fire.

The home, located on the corner of 84th Street and 163rd Avenue, was damaged in Hurricane Sandy. The Pepitones had work on a gas main done through Rapid Repairs — the program created by the Bloomberg administration to help homeowners rebuild after Hurricane Sandy — which was approved by the Department of Buildings.

A FDNY spokesman would not go into detail about why officials have ruled out the Rapid Repairs work as a possible cause.

But a source close to the investigation says the fire marshall ruled out that work as a cause at least in part due to where in the house investigators believe the explosion first occurred.

The source said the flashpoint was likely not in the same part of the house as the work done by Rapid Repairs. The house has also had other work done since Sandy, including electrical work. It could not immediately be determined if that other work was part of Rapid Repairs or had anything to do with the explosion. The source stressed that it is still early in the investigation, adding that a number of possible causes are being explored, but would not give any specific possibilities.

The gas line work was approved on May 23 and included installation connections for a new furnace and water heater, but the work that was actually done is still in question.

The contractor, WDF Inc., has been used by Rapid Repairs to do similar work in at least a half dozen homes in Howard Beach. In at least two of the homes, the work was done in February and March, but the permits were issued in May, according to DOB records.

Calls to WDF’s Manhattan office, which is listed on the DOB’s permit, were not returned by press time.

The DOB has issued a vacate order for the destroyed home and it has been condemned. A tall wood barrier was constructed around the property. The explosion tore out the home’s south side and the subsequent fire gutted the rest of the 50-year-old structure. Interior walls, still decorated with wallpaper, can be seen from the street.

None of the nearby homes were damaged in the explosion.

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