PLUM BOROUGH, Pa. — Six people are dead after an explosion on Rustic Ridge Drive in Plum Borough that destroyed three homes and damaged at least a dozen more.
PHOTOS: House explosion in Plum Borough
Officials say three people were hurt in the explosion. One died in at the hospital after being transported in critical condition. Two people who were taken to the hospital in stable condition have since been released.
57 firefighters were treated at the scene due to “minor issues.” They were treated at the scene and then went back to work.
A GoFundMe account has been set up for victims: Victims of Plum Home Explosion.
6 Killed in Devastating Explosion
Five people were recovered from the scene, including one child, after the explosion.
Heather Oravitz, 51, community development director for the borough, lived in the house that exploded and was killed, the Plum Borough mayor confirms. Her husband, Paul Oravitz, was in the hospital in critical condition but later died from his injuries, sources tell Channel 11.
A close friend said Heather was a hockey mom, very sweet, outgoing and committed to her family. A GoFundMe has been created for the family.
Borough Manager Michael Thomas, 57, was also killed in the blast. He lived one home over, but he was next door inside the home that exploded at the time. His wife, who is a teacher at Butler Area School District, daughter and their dog were in their home. His wife was able to escape through a window and his daughter was able to run out with the dog. Both were rushed to the hospital, but they’re now physically okay.
Also, among those killed were a father and son, Casey and Keegan Clontz. Casey was 38, and Keegan was 12. They were both inside their neighbor’s home when it exploded, but at this time it’s unclear why. Keegan was a student in the Plum School District. His dad, Casey, worked for Peoples Gas.
A family friend told us he’s heartbroken. “I was never expecting it to be someone I knew. My son was just there a couple of days before playing with Keegan so it’s heartbreaking,” said Brock Harrison, Carl’s Tavern manager.
Kevin Sebunia, 55, was also killed in the explosion. According to property records, Sebunia lived nearby.
His daughter Emily told us her dad truly had a heart of gold, and that he was the most selfless man and offered a helping hand to everyone. He never lived a day without joy and his family was always his priority.
Donations for Kevin Sebunia’s family can be made to the S&T Bank along Saltsburg Road.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to all of those affected by this horrible tragedy. The loss and grief felt by all of us is overwhelming,” said Plum Borough Council President Mike Doyle. “Thank you to everybody in the community and surroundign area for everything you’ve done for us during this tragedy. Our borough will continue to be here as a resource for this community. Whatever our residents need -- whether it be services, grief counseling, food, water or anything else -- will provide. Please reach out to us for any assistance that may be needed.”
Ring Doorbell Video Shows Moments of Explosion
Video given to Channel 11 shows the moment a house exploded in Plum Borough.
The explosion happened at around 10:23 a.m. Saturday on Rustic Ridge Drive and Brookside Drive.
The video shows Ring doorbell footage of the blast that blew out windows and doors throughout the neighborhood. Debris can be seen flying into yards and homes.
Neighbors described the explosion as feeling like they were punched in the chest or like a mortar was over their house. One neighbor said, “It shook everything.”
House Explosion Under Investigation
Fire Marshal Considers Explosion Accidental
The Allegheny County District Attorney told Channel 11 News on Thursday that officials currently consider the deadly explosion in Plum Borough to be accidental.
District Attorney Stephen Zappala said he toured the damage in Plum Wednesday and spoke with the fire marshal.
Homeowners Had ‘Hot Water Tank Issues’
The Allegheny County Fire Marshal’s office has confirmed the house that exploded had hot water tank issues.
The tank was located in the basement. The fire marshal said in an update that they will investigate that information, as well as any other possibilities that may explain what happened.
All day Tuesday, crews with Peoples Gas were out along Rustic Ridge Drive, with a blue tent set up and an excavator, digging in a yard roughly three houses down from the home that exploded. We’re told Peoples Gas drilled holes on either side of the line and they’re testing the line. The Public Utilities Commission says it’s monitoring these integrity tests. The PUC added that they’re investigating if public utility infrastructure or operations contributed to the cause and circumstances surrounding the explosion.
Questions Remain After Explosion
There are a lot of questions surrounding Saturday’s house explosion, which is the third house explosion in Plum over the last 15 years.
An Allegheny County spokesperson said the county Fire Marshal’s Office is leading the investigation into the cause and origin of the fire and explosion. The office will work with local, state and federal partners as needed. The spokesperson said the process “will be involved and is expected to take quite some time, even months or years.”
The fire marshal is still investigating last year’s house explosion in Plum along Hialeah Drive. A couple and their three sons who lived there survived.
Residents told 11 News that they want answers.
“I think everyone is wondering what happened. I mean, why?” Joyce said.
In 2008, a house exploded along Mardi Gras Drive in Plum, killing a man and seriously injuring a 4-year-old girl. The National Transportation Safety Board investigated and discovered it was caused by a two-inch gas line that was damaged and then failed five years later after it corroded.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Rustic Ridge neighborhood sits on top of abandoned mine land and is surrounded by shallow oil and gas wells. There is also a pipeline that runs behind the housing development, but none of these have been identified as the cause of the blast.
11 News reached out to Peoples Gas Company to address the community’s concerns. They said they are providing their resources to help the Allegheny County fire marshal in this investigation, including additional tests of their system.
On Saturday, Peoples Gas president Michael Huwar said his team at the scene checked for leakage, as well as did smell checks and tested for gas underground and in the air. After the checks, Huwar said his team determined their “system was operating as designed,” but further testing of their systems will be done.
We also reached out to the Department of Environmental Protection to ask about those mines but haven’t heard back.
Channel 11 spent the entire day Tuesday working to get answers about what happened in Plum, where the investigation stands, and who’s being held accountable. We reached out to several local elected officials including State Sen. Jim Brewster, Councilman Mike Doyle and Plum Mayor Harry Schlegel. They did not return our calls, emails or attempts to talk to them in person. Gov. Shapiro also did not return our request for comment.
Congresswoman Summer Lee, who represents this district says she’s actively looking into federal resources that can be brought in. She tells Channel 11, she’s also planning a site visit and looking at avenues to address immediate and long-term needs.
Plum Borough School District
The Plum Borough School District is taking action to support its community.
The Plum Borough School District superintendent, Dr. Rich A. Walsh, released the following statement regarding the house explosion on Rustic Ridge Drive:
Dear Plum Families,
It is with great sorrow that I write about the devastating incident that occurred in our Rustic Ridge neighborhood. The house explosion resulted in the tragic loss of life felt across our community. On behalf of the entire school district, I want to express my deepest sympathies and offer support to our school community affected by this tragedy.
Support services will be available to our students, staff, and community members to ensure that anyone who needs assistance can find comfort and guidance. We will open our doors for healing and reflection, where memories can be shared and celebrated. It is our collective responsibility to ensure the emotional well-being of our students and families as we navigate this unimaginable tragedy. Our Crisis Intervention Team, comprised of district Counselors, Psychologists, and Social Workers in collaboration with Turtle Creek Valley Community Services, will be available on Monday and Tuesday, August 14 & 15 from 10-2 at Plum Senior High School Library.
If assistance is needed to help your child or answer their questions, we would like to direct you to the Parent Resources page on our Special Education and Pupil Services website. Resources include Grief: Helping Handout for School and Home, Reacting to Grief, and other resources to help support families.
During times like these, we must lean on one another for comfort and strength. Let us continue to extend a helping hand to the affected families, offering our support, condolences, and assistance in any way possible. Together, we can create an environment of compassion and unity that will help us heal.
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Walsh said the district will open its doors to students, staff and the community for support services.
“It is our collective responsibility to ensure the emotional well-being of our students and families as we navigate this unimaginable tragedy,” Walsh said.
The district is making its crisis intervention team available on Monday and Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Plum Senior High School Library.
Walsh also encourages parents to utilize grief resources and other handouts the district has on its Parents Resources webpage.
On 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Plum Boro Music Boosters will host a Marching Band Preview & Kona Ice Fundraiser.
The event will be held at the entrance to the football stadium at Plum Senior High School. One-hundred percent of Kona Ice sales will benefit the families affected in Rustic Ridge. Donation jars will also be available.
The Plum High School Boys Soccer Team is also hosting a fundraiser. All profits from the sale of Plum porch boards will be donated to Rustic Ridge families.
The Red Cross and Salvation Army are assisting residents impacted by the explosion. Allegheny County Human Services have set up a Disaster Distress Helpline. Residents can call 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs” to 66746.
Those with housing needs are being directed to Renton VFD, located at 1996 Old Mine Road.
How You Can Help
A GoFundMe account has been set up for victims: Victims of Plum Home Explosion.
But, Allegheny County leaders are asking anyone who does not live in the area and has no reason to be there to stay away.
State & Local Officials Respond
Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro tweeted the following statement:
Lori and I are praying for the families affected by the house explosion in Plum today. My Administration and @PEMAHQ are coordinating with and supporting county and local emergency responders. As you rebuild, we will have your back.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has released the following statement about the explosion in Plum:
Our thoughts are with the Plum residents impacted by an explosion and fires in their neighborhood this morning. Our emergency services team are on scene along with our fire marshals. We stand ready to provide any resources necessary for this community.
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