Copper thief likely to blame for Surrey explosion

A copper thief is likely to blame for an explosion that levelled one Surrey home and damaged several others Saturday.

Surrey fire investigators believe the blast that rocked a quiet, semi-rural neighbourhood near 196 Street and 94A Avenue was caused by a natural gas leak, and the most likely source of that leak was several lengths of copper gas piping that were missing from the home's crawl space.

"Our investigator worked with the BC Safety Authority investigator and they determined the number of gas appliances that were in the home and determined the condition of the lines feeding those appliances," said Surrey Fire Deputy Chief Gord Anderson.

"It was in the process of doing that that they discovered there were several chunks of copper pipe that had been twisted and bent back and that wouldn't be damage that could be attributed to the explosion."

Anderson speculated the pipe was bent up to stop the flow of natural gas after the copper pipe was cut.

"Unfortunately, it didn't do the job," said Anderson, who speculated the theft might have occurred one or two days before the explosion.

Investigators, however, do not know what ignited the natural gas that would have slowly filled the home. The pilot light on the split-level home's natural gas furnace, the hot water tank or the electric sump pump are all possibilities.

"But to determine which one is pretty much impossible now," Anderson said.

The blast completely flattened the house at 16960 94A Ave. at about 2:45 p.m.

Smoldering debris was scattered over the surrounding area and filled the house's swimming pool.

About a half-dozen neighboring homes were damaged, with windows shattered and garage doors pushed in.

Neighbor Otto Hooft was taking a break from cutting his lawn in his back yard, working inside his garage with his wife when a blast wave rocked their house.

Some ladders fell on his car inside the garage.

"This home behind me disappeared, just blew up," he said.

"The explosion and pressure was unbelievable."

Lumber went flying into their back yard.

"When we looked out there was debris flying through the air, hanging in the trees. A huge fire. We were kind of in shock."

The house, which was listed for sale, had been vacant for upwards of six months.

by David Weir and Dan Ferguson

- with files from CTV News

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