Orwell Twp: Still no cause in house explosion

ORWELL TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Authorities think it could be natural gas that caused a fatal house explosion in Orwell.

The blast, just before 7 p.m. Wednesday, is still under investigation.

The Ashtabula County Sheriff's Office has not confirmed the names of either of these victims.

Friends and neighbors tell me that Jamies Ortis lived here on Montgomery Road in a home his mother owned. His girlfriend, Malerie Nick, of Fairport Harbor, spent a lot of time here as well.

Bob McElroy spent a lot of nights with his son's good friend, Jamies, and his girlfriend, Nick.

"She was real bubbly," McElroy said. "Jamies loved Malerie... He's taking it really hard."

Family members tell us Jamies has burns on 58 percent of his body, but is alert at times. A spokesperson says he's listed in critical condition at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

Meanwhile, state fire marshals and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources want to know what happened.

"As you can see, it's an extremely large debris field," said State Fire Marshal Assistant Chief Bob Sharp.

"Total destruction of the home, off the foundation, traveling well, a couple hundred yards in each direction. A major explosion. From that, we would assume that there was a build up of some type of gas."

The home did not have gas service. But a spokesperson for ODNR says shallow shale gas, pockets of methane very close to the surface, are common in Ashtabula County, as well as other parts of Northeast Ohio.

"We have indications from the family that there may have been a problem here with gas," Sharp said. "We just dug up an area where the pump for the water well was, and that's what we're looking at."

Friday they will bring in special equipment to continue to dig into the issue, but they say nearby residents shouldn't be concerned.

"This is an isolated incident. There is no problem with gas explosions in this area," Sharp said. "But you see something like this, it's just devastating."

If you smell gas in your home, authorities remind you to contact your local fire department. You should also contact ODNR with ongoing concerns about natural gas, like what may have been occurring on Montgomery Road.

Mark Bruce, a spokesperson for ODNR, said there were no reports of problems from this address, or in this neighborhood.

Bruce said these pockets are naturally occurring and not the result of human interaction, such as hydraulic fracturing or other gas wells.

An autopsy may also help determine what happened here. The Ashtabula County Coroner says it's underway. The coroner also said the office needs DNA results to confirm the young woman's identity.

Follow WKYC's Sara Shookman on Twitter: @SaraShookman


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