TRURO — The explosion that destroyed Miriam and Todd Henning’s house on April 20 was likely caused by a leaking propane tank, according to local and state fire and police officials.
Truro Fire Chief Tim Collins, Police Chief Jamie Calise, and State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey issued a joint press release on June 17 saying that the 34-year-old outdoor tank was overdue for a requalification exam and had been improperly filled.
“The most probable sequence of events suggests that propane leaked into the basement, subsequently being ignited by either the water heater or furnace,” the officials stated. “This led to a fire and explosion, ultimately causing a 120-gallon propane tank to detonate.”
The statement said that “due to the extensive damage caused by the blast, multiple potential causes could not be conclusively ruled out.” It added, “While the official cause will remain undetermined, investigators found no evidence indicating foul play or an intentionally set fire.”
Truro plumbing and gas inspector Scott Van Ryswood said the town does not do routine propane tank checks. “We inspect on an initial installation,” he said, adding that gas suppliers do more periodic inspections. “After we’re out the door, we don’t really have any control over what happens,” he said.
Provincetown’s F.A. Days & Sons supplied propane to 8 Harding’s Way. According to the press release, “inspectors issued a notice of violation to the individual responsible for filling the tank on behalf of F.A. Days & Sons.” Jake Wark, a public information officer at the state Dept. of Fire Services, said that the notice is an on-the-record warning that does not carry a fine.
F.A. Days & Sons did not respond to multiple calls from the Independent.
“I would imagine since a violation has been issued that the propane manufacturers or delivery companies out here will look into their internal policies,” Fire Chief Collins said.
The explosion shook homes from Provincetown to Brewster, injuring no one but leaving wreckage and ash where the two-story home at 8 Harding’s Way had been. Much of the rubble is still there. The property remains fenced. Miriam Henning is still “on a vacation she never asked for,” said her son, Ari Henning.
The Hennings are still staying in a rental house on Ryder Beach Road with friends from their church. In early July, they’ll have to move to Orleans. “They’re both kind of untethered,” Ari said. “They’re doing fine, but it’s definitely taking an emotional toll on them.”
Ari, who is on the West Coast, has continued to deal with the explosion’s aftermath. “It’s been moving so agonizingly slow,” he said. He sought quotes from about a dozen companies for clearing the lot and received just one written estimate. But the site will get cleared “supposedly, this week,” he said. And a septic inspection revealed some damage, but “now we’re at least on the process where I can start thinking about rebuilding,” he said.
The obstacle right now, said Ari, is the insurance company: “To put it bluntly, they’re nickel and diming us pretty hard.” He said that appraisals issued by the Mass. Property Insurance Underwriting Association (MPIUA) have led to estimates amounting to about 70 percent of actual repair and rebuilding costs. It’s especially frustrating, he said, because his parents have been paying insurance premiums for 40 years.
“Whatever algorithm they use to calculate value is just brutally inaccurate for the Outer Cape,” he said. Contesting the estimates has sapped time and energy.
“Honestly, managing the disaster for my parents is like a part-time job,” he said. “It’s a couple hours of the day, every day.”
Last week, Ari became a father. “It’s nice to be able to just unplug and hold him,” he said about his son, “and be like, ‘This is what I’m going to do for the next hour. I’m not going to worry about any of that other stuff because I’m a dad, and that’s what I have to do.’ ”