Six months later: Henness Flats Apartment complex fatal explosion | SierraSun.com

Six months later: Henness Flats Apartment complex fatal explosion

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

Greyson Howard/Sierra SunCaution tape and boarded-up windows still mark the Henness Flats apartment where an explosion occurred last August.

TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; A boarded-up window and a sagging strip of yellow caution tape are all the memories that remain of a chilling scene six months ago at Unit No. 101 at the Henness Flats Apartment Complex.

On Aug. 18, 2009, a then-unidentified explosion left a 27-year-old mother dead, her husband badly burned and their three children recovering from minor injuries.

Six months later, many of the apartment buildingand#8217;s former tenants are gone. And one big question remains unanswered.

and#8220;All of the people Iand#8217;ve represented there have moved away,and#8221; said Mary Marsh Linde, an attorney who represented about 10 neighbors who were among many displaced for days after the incident. and#8220;They were afraid.and#8221;

A Truckee Fire Protection District report in October attributed the incident to water poured on a grease cooking fire, which led to the death of Isela Minutti. Her husband, Wuliber Martinez, 31, was taken to UC Davis Medical Center for treatment to burns that covered 45 percent of his body. The injured children, ages 12, 7 and 10 days old at the time, were later were released to family members.

According to the report, the only question remaining was whether the antifreeze in Hennessand#8217; fire sprinkler system made the fire turn into an explosion that threw broken glass from windows 80-plus feet into the parking lot and broke an interior door in half.

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Nearly four months after that initial report, the answer to that question is now in the hands of the State Fire Marshaland#8217;s Office.

and#8220;They have the ability to try and replicate those conditions in a lab, but until they do that, itand#8217;s inappropriate to guess,and#8221; said Truckee Fire Chief Bryce Keller. and#8220;Iand#8217;m equally miffed by it (how the explosion occurred), but the report was well done. Itand#8217;s (the antifreeze issue) why we moved it on to the state.and#8221;

On Jan. 12, the National Fire Sprinkler Association issued and#8220;Antifreeze Cautionsand#8221; in response to the Henness Flats incident.

and#8220;There is concern that the concentrations of antifreeze was unacceptably high, possibly due to poor mixing and and#8216;settlingand#8217; of the antifreeze solution on the ground floor of the two-story building with attic,and#8221; the report states. and#8220;Because antifreeze liquids are combustible in relatively pure form, the first caution is not to use more antifreeze than needed.and#8221;

The report goes on to say that antifreeze solution can be completely mixed so it wonand#8217;t settle out or concentrate.

But Keller cautioned against assuming that was the problem in Henness Apartment No. 101.

and#8220;We have absolutely no reason to believe the fire suppression system was not at the ready,and#8221; Keller said.

The State Fire Marshalland#8217;s Office in Sacramento did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

The townand#8217;s building department certified the building and#8212; but not Apartment No. 101 itself and#8212; fit for occupancy on Aug. 27.

That townand#8217;s conclusion wasnand#8217;t enough to ease the minds of some residents, however, considering the exact cause of the explosion at the time was still unknown.

and#8220;They expect us to move back in but donand#8217;t know what happened? Would you want to live there?and#8221; said Alicia Lampkin, whose apartment was next door to the unit where the explosion occurred, in an Aug. 27 story on http://www.sierrasun.com

Lampkin was among the group of people displaced Henness residents whom Marsh Linde represented after the incident. This week, when asked about the October report from Truckee Fire that stated a cooking fire was to blame, Marsh Linde questioned the departmentand#8217;s conclusion.

and#8220;I think the fire department gave us a line about what caused the explosion,and#8221; she said.

Keller said the department was very proactive about both the investigation and making sure the building was safe to move back into, and was quick to go after the resources of the State Fire Marshaland#8217;s Office to help resolve unanswered questions.

Investigators with Henness Flatsand#8217; insurance company are also still investigating, said Jeffrey Passadore, president of Cambridge Realty, which manages the property.

and#8220;Both the apartment where the incident occurred and the one upstairs are yet to be released and#8212; theyand#8217;re under the control of the investigators,and#8221; Passadore said.

He said three households had vacated the 12-unit building after the incident, and two relocated within the apartment complex.

Keller said one important thing for the community to take away from the explosion at Henness Flats is that it was preventable.

and#8220;Kitchen fires happen all the time and#8212; people need to know how to deal with them,and#8221; Keller said.

Grease cooking fires are dangerous, he said, because the burning liquid is easily splashed, and if water is used to douse the flames (as appears to be the case at Henness), that can cause a fire ball.

Instead, the cooking panand#8217;s lid should be used to smother the fire, or baking soda or a a dry chemical fire extinguisher can work.

For more fire safety information, or to see the fire districtand#8217;s releases on Henness Flats, go to http://www.truckeefire.org.