Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said reports that Monday's house explosion in South Philly may have been caused when a handyman lit a cigarette, were "pure speculation at this point."
"There is a lot of speculation about what was happening in the house Monday morning. I'm not able to address rumors and speculation," Nutter said in an afternoon news conference.
Three houses were destroyed and eight people, including two infants and a teen, were hurt when a home at 428 Daly Street exploded and collapsed. All of the injuries are minor except for one man's -- the handyman who was working in the home at the time, identified as Steven Barrientos. He has burns over a quarter of his body and is in critical condition.
Some of the initial information that came from fire officials on the scene of the explosion Monday is changing, according to city officials, and it relates specifically to the contractor or handyman.
Within the first few hours of the investigation, from the site of the blast, Deputy Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer initially reported that Barrientos was working on a water heater at the time of the blast. Sawyer said Monday that information came from the injured man himself on the way to the hospital. At today's news conference, however, Sawyer said, "We have not spoken with the contractor. Right now the contractor is intubated."
Mayor Nutter explained that at this point in the investigation, they don't know exactly what kind of work the handyman was doing inside the house, although they were told he may have been hired to do some tile work.
The property at 428 Daly was being renovated and all the work that the city was responsible for inspecting had been performed to code, the house was inspected 14 times during the work; there were no violations and no complaints, according to Nutter. A total of four permits were issued by the Department of Licenses & Inspections, dating back to early April. Both the Mayor and Deputy Commissioner for Licenses & Inspections, Michael Fink said whatever work was being done by the handyman was likely work that would be considered home repair and not work that he would need a permit to perform.
Nutter said the preliminary investigation indicates the explosion "occurred due to natural gas."
Neighbors reported smelling gas before the blast, which happened just after 11 a.m. According to the PGW however, no one officially complained.
"We went back through our records and there was not a single call to PGW to report the smell of gas," said Barry O'Sullivan, the spokesman for Philadelphia Gas Works.
O'Sullivan encouraged citizens to call 215-235-1212 anytime to report a gas smell or even suspicion of a gas leak.
The home at 428 Daly and the two adjoining homes -- 426 and 430 -- will all be demolished as soon as the debris from the explosion is cleared. Meanwhile nearly all of the families who were forced to evacuate due to the explosion returned to their homes on Tuesday.
"To come back feels so good," said Daniel Vogel of South Philadelphia. "I'm so excited to sleep in my own bed tonight."
The city's Fire Marshall is investigating the cause of the explosion. A source with the Fire Marshall's Office says a gas meter and adjoining pipes taken from the house that exploded will be tested for leaks and the amount of gas that flowed through it.
An online fundraiser has been set up for the family who lived on 426 Daly Street. You can view the website here.