CHANDLER, AZ — Investigators have determined an explosion at a Chandler strip mall that left several people injured last week was accidental.
"The findings by the ATF National Response Team and investigative partners determined that the explosion was caused by an unintentional natural gas leak ignited by an independent ignition source," ATF Special Agent in Charge Gabriel Pinon said in media release on Tuesday.
The incident was said to be accidental, and no criminal activity was found.
Chandler Fire Department crews responded to the scene around 9:45 a.m. near Rural and Ray roads on Thursday, Aug. 26, and found the roof collapsed and fire burning at a printing shop in the center.
Four people were inside at the time, fire officials confirmed and suffered serious injuries. All four are still receiving treatment as of Tuesday, according to a press release.
Valleywise Health says the four victims suffered burn injuries to as much as 30% of their bodies.
Three of the four, identified as 29-year-old Dillion Ryan, 39-year-old Andrew Ryan, and 29-year-old Parker Milldebrandt, were present inside Platinum Printing at the time of the explosion. The fourth individual, identified as 58-old Glenn Jordan, was inside the Eyeglass Repair business to the west.
Southwest Gas released the following statement Tuesday afternoon related to this incident:
"Our collective hearts remain with those impacted by Thursday morning’s incident in Chandler, as well as their families. Southwest Gas thanks first responders for their response and thank investigators for their work at the scene of the incident. Southwest Gas is committed to determine the facts behind the unintentional natural gas leak which investigators have cited as a contributing factor to this incident. We are also committed to immediately implementing any operational enhancements resulting from the investigation."
"It's a serious incident. There's no question about that," said Mark McDonald, a former gas company employee. "Unfortunately, they're very common. I'd say multiple [explosions] per week, depending on the area, across the country."
McDonald spent decades working in the gas industry and now runs NatGas Consulting, investigating explosions across the country.
"My job, as the expert, is to identify what the cause was. What was the infrastructure? Who's responsible? Could it have been prevented?" said McDonald.
They are the questions Tom Ryan, a Valley attorney and close friend to two of the victims, is now asking.
"Southwest Gas has acknowledged that it was its leak, but that doesn't end the inquiry," said Ryan. "We need to know what the maintenance for this line showed, and what did they know about any kind of repairs? And what kind of prior incidents that they have?"
"The industry knows about these issues, there's no question about that," said McDonald. "They know their infrastructure, they have to. They're the ones that put it there."
Months of investigations and lawsuits are sure to follow this explosion.
"It'll be a long process, and generally the true information, comes out," said McDonald.
"We will be pursuing all the legal remedies for these families," said Ryan.
It is important to remember inside that building were four fathers. In Parker Milldebrandt's case he was just days away from his first daughter's birth.
"They're very, very lucky to be alive," said McDonald.
Their scars will be visible long after the debris and leaky pipes are gone.
McDonald says in most cases the gas will have that rotten egg odor, and if you smell it immediately call 911 and your gas company. But he also recommends buying a methane gas sensor.