Richmond, NY – The victims of a home explosion Tuesday were identified Thursday as Eric Higham, 80, and his wife, Gail A. Higham, 70. The couple died in the blast that fire investigators determined was the result of a propane leak into the interior of the residence, which was destroyed, according to Ontario County Sheriff Kevin Henderson.
The source of the ignition remains under investigation.
Residents miles from the house at 8116 Quayle Road, near the Route 20A intersection, heard a blast and some felt the ground shake shortly before 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. Multiple calls came into the 911 center. Sheriff’s deputies arrived about 4:31 a.m. for reports of an explosion and fire at the house. Several area fire departments responded. Responders arrived to find what appeared to be an internal explosion and the remaining structure fully engulfed.
The bodies of the Highams were were recovered shortly before 8 a.m. Henderson said the Sheriff’s Office was able to positively identify the victims with the assistance of the office of the Monroe County Medical Examiner.
A neighbor of the Highams, Dutch VanGrol, said he woke up to the blast and discovered the house across from him on Quayle Road up in flames. He described the house as a one-story, wood A-frame where the couple lived. VanGrol witnessed several more explosions that shot pieces of wood and other debris into the air, some getting caught in trees.
Despite the tragic incident in Richmond, national statistics show home gas explosions are rare, but it is not uncommon to smell gas in the home.
Rodd Riesenberger is a battalion chief with the Ridge Road Fire District in Monroe County. He said if you smell gas, don’t take any chances.
Don’t use light switches, don’t use your telephone, just get up and get out and call 911 from a neighbor’s phone, he said.
On the continuing investigation of what ignited the explosion of the Richmond residence: We’re looking at each of the potential ignition sources those would be stoves, water heaters, anything that would come on at that time of the morning, said Jeff Harloff, Ontario County fire coordinator and emergency manager. Those are the things we’re looking at first, and looking at if the victims may have had any impact or may have had any activity at the same time as the explosion.
Improperly installed appliances are one of the main causes of gas leaks, Reisenberger said. He said even if you have a smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide detector in your home, they may not be enough to detect a gas leak.
Carbon monoxide alarms do not sense natural gas or propane. That would require a different alarm, called a gas alarm. Many RVs come standard with a gas alarm, homes generally do not. There [are] lots of different choices out there. Your local hardware store has plenty to pick from, he said.