Natural Gas Blast Victim’s Mother Educated, Energized and Engaged on Safety IssuesDec 6th, 2012 | By fjgallagher | Category: Lead Articles, Natural Gas Explosions
Dee Melton nearly lost her daughter, Lisa Martinez, and four of her grandchildren, to a natural gas explosion.
Now she’s pushing the natural gas company to do a better job of educating people about the warning signs associated with a natural gas leaks, with the hope that better information will prevent a future tragedy.
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You can see raw video from the ABC-TV affiliate KMGH-TV of the damage done to the Martinez home home by the explosion here:
On Friday, Oct. 12, a natural gas explosion tore apart a home in Castle Rock, Colorado, injuring five people — Martinez and four of her children — and damaging three other nearby houses. Thankfully, even though their home was utterly destroyed, their injuries were not life-threatening.
After the blast, Lisa Martinez, who was upstairs at the time watching television with her children, said she smelled garlic in the time leading up to the explosion, but did not connect the odor with the possibility of a natural gas leak in her home.
After all, she thought, everybody knows natural gas smells like rotten eggs.
After the explosion, Martinez’s mother, Dee Melton, asked her daughter is she smelled gas before the incident, and her daughter told her about the garlic odor.
That got Melton thinking, because everything she’d heard or read about natural gas odors referred to a “rotten egg” smell. Moreover, as Melton soon discovered, the safety material on the website maintained by Black Hills Energy, the company that supplied natural gas to the Martinez home, specifically mentions a “rotten egg” smell and doesn’t say anything about a garlic odor.
Melton called Black Hills Energy to ask why their safety educational material didn’t mention anything other than the smell of rotten eggs in connection with natural gas leaks. The company’s response, or lack thereof, led to the following email exchange:
From: Melton, Dee
Sent: Thursday, November 15, 2012 11:25 AM
To: Ashton, Wes
Subject: Castle Rock House Explosion 10/12/12
My name is Dee Melton and I am the mother and grandmother of the 5 people involved in the Castle Rock home explosion on 10/12/12. I do not know why no one will return my phone call or contact me even after promising FOX31 reporter Mark Meredith that you would do so. I am sending this email to you to clarify what it is I am and am not looking for.
After getting the information from you that someone would call me on Monday – 11/12/12 - Mark Meredith received a subsequent call explaining that only the homeowners involved in the explosion could get information. I am NOT looking for information specific to their case. There is an ongoing investigation that will hopefully, in the end, answer all of those questions regarding what and why this happened.
My point, as a natural gas consumer, is this: Many years ago there was a huge public service campaign to teach consumers about the sulphur/rotten egg smell of the additive to natural gas – by the time that was over I don’t think there was anyone who wasn’t aware of this information and what to do with it. That was great and I’m sure has saved lives. Now, though, that information has changed – the problem being that NOBODY KNOWS about it.
In speaking with my daughter on the day of the explosion I asked the obvious question – did she smell the sulphur/rotten egg smell? No, she did not. She said she smelled garlic. Garlic??? In the days that followed I googled ‘can natural gas smell like garlic’, and sure enough, found several articles that said exactly that. None of what I found came from our Colorado gas companies, but it obviously applies to us because that is what my daughter smelled. In checking your site and the Excel site – the only information I could find pertaining to the natural gas smell was the sulphur/rotten egg smell.
My daughter noticed the garlic smell for at least an hour before her house exploded. She was a little perplexed by it but had no reason to connect it with anything dangerous. Had she known that it could be an indicator of a natural gas leak – at the very least, she and her children would’ve been out of the house and avoided the mental and emotional trauma that they have, are still, and will be for a very long time, experiencing as a result of having been in the house when it exploded. At best – given she had at least an hour to react – the gas could’ve been shut off and they all would be happily living in their home today.
What I am trying to do is get a new conversation started about natural gas leaks and what to look for. This is ‘MUST HAVE’ information for the public!!! Natural gas comes from the gas companies and the information pertaining to it needs to also come from the gas companies. I can go on TV all I want to with the information but it won’t have the same effect as having the information come from the source – the gas companies.
Then there is the issue of natural gas detectors for the home. Before this happened I had never heard of them, and before this happened neither had my daughter. NOBODY that I have talked to is aware that there is such a thing.
To sum it all up – we, the public – need to be re-educated about what to look for and what safety devices might be available to us so that we can keep ourselves and our families safe – and this information NEEDS to come from the GAS COMPANIES!!!
Including that of my daughter, there have been 3 natural gas incidents in the news, 1 involving loss of lives, in one short month. 2 of those were in Colorado. It can only be described as a miracle that my daughter and my grandchildren are alive today although all of their much loved pets are not. Sadly for the people in Indianapolis, there was loss of lives. The people in Lakewood lost pets and homes. I have no idea why this is happening, and maybe you don’t either. My point is PLEASE come forward and let us all know how to stay safe!!!
Melton received the following response:
From: Bailey, Susan
Date: 11/16/2012 5:34:54 PM
To: Melton, Dee
Subject: Castle Rock House Explosion 10/12/12
Dear Ms. Melton:
I understand that you have been attempting to contact Black Hills Energy about the explosion that happened last month in Castle Rock as well as the concerns you expressed for your family members present in the home at the time of the explosion. I am sure you can appreciate, we cannot and will not discuss any information about private customer accounts with anyone other than the account holder. We can tell you that we continue to work with the authorities, the homeowners’ insurance carriers and others to determine what happened, but as you correctly noted in your email, that investigation is not complete. Because the investigation is ongoing, additional discussions on the matter would be inappropriate at this time.
The safety of our customers is always important to Black Hills Energy and our personnel were at the scene of the house where the explosion occurred. The homeowner was present at a public meeting of the neighborhood association conducted shortly after the explosion and we had the opportunity to speak with him at that time. Moreover, the operations of natural gas facilities within the state are regulated by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, Division of Gas Safety. This would include ongoing safety inspection programs regarding natural gas facilities and odorant compliance. Finally, Black Hills Energy also provides safety information available on its website at www.blackhillsenergy.com/safety/.
You mention that years ago there “was a huge public service campaign to teach consumers about the sulphur/rotten egg smell of the additive to natural gas.” You should be aware that Black Hills Energy has, and continues a program of ongoing customer education regarding natural gas safety. Because we have no record of your being a Black Hills Energy customer, you may not be aware of the information that we regularly provide in this regard, but I have enclosed copies of a couple of the recent bill inserts Black Hills provided at the community meeting.
I would also encourage you to contact your natural gas supplier if you have other questions about natural gas or natural gas safety and education.
I want to extend our thoughts and ongoing prayers to you and your family as they continue the rebuilding process.
Truly yours ,
General Manager, Black Hills Energy Colorado Gas
Not good enough, says Melton. The gas companies, she said, at the very least, need to let people know that a gas leak might smell like something other than rotten eggs.
As a result of response she received from Black Hills Energy, Melton has become something of a budding activist on natural gas safety issues. She’s written dozens of emails, called local and state policy makers and may even seek a legislative solution that would force the natural gas industry to rewrite its consumer education safety materials to reflect the fact that natural gas leaks don’t always smell like rotten eggs.
Here’s the message Melton’s been sending:
Hi – my name is Dee Melton and the house that exploded in Castle Rock belonged to my daughter, Lisa, and her family. We have learned a couple of things because of this experience and I’ve been sending many emails and talking to many people – trying to get the word spread.
The two lessons learned: Natural gas leaks don’t always smell like like the ‘sulphur/rotten egg’ smell we’ve all been taught to be aware of. My daughter smelled ‘garlic’ for at least an hour before the explosion. She was a little perplexed but had no reason to connect it to anything dangerous. I went online after this happened and sure enough found several references to a garlic smell indicating a natural gas leak. I’ve asked a lot of people and nobody has ever heard of this. Why not? Also, did you know that – like smoke and carbon monoxide detectors – there are natural gas detectors for the home? Nobody has ever heard of these either. Why not?
If the public was as aware of these two things – as we are of the ‘sulphur/rotten egg’ information – at the very least my daughter and grandchildren would’ve left the the house. At best – with a fire department at the entrance to their neighborhood only minutes away from their home – and given that she was aware of the smell for at least an hour – the gas could’ve been shut off and they would still be living happily in their home with all of their pets (2 of whom perished in the explosion).
Instead, simply because the gas companies – for whatever reason – haven’t given us all the information we need to be able to live safely with natural gas, my daughter and her family are traumatized for life, have lost everything – including precious items from the adopted children’s birth families in Ethiopia and their much loved pets – and will not feel safe again in their home for a very long time – if ever.
Please help me get this information out there – it could save lives.
“If we can prevent something like this from happening again, it’ll be worth it,” Melton told NaturalGasWatch.org. “Unfortunately, the gas companies don’t seem to want to hear what I’m saying.”