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City blames fiber company for causing fatal gas explosion that destroyed a building

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Zachery Eanes and Mark Schultz
The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

A fiber company that had hired contractors to work at the scene of Wednesday’s deadly gas explosion had the required city license and permit for the job, city officials said at a news conference Thursday.

Fibertech Networks, which is owned by Crown Castle, hired a contractor to install fiber in the area, the company said in a statement. (At a press conference, city officials named the permit acquirer as Fiber Technologies Network and confirmed it was a subsidiary of Crown Castle.)

The company had the business license and permit it needed to work in the city, Deputy City Manager Bo Ferguson said.

An engineering company called Utilis, which Ferguson said operated out of Charlotte, was responsible for submitting the permit and managing the work site. Ferguson added that usually engineering companies hire a sub-contractor to do the work, and so far no sub-contractor has been named.

The initial permit was issued on June 27, 2018 and run through June 21 of this year.

In a statement the president of the fiber company, offered condolences.

“We are devastated by this tragic event and its impact on the Durham community,” said Cathy Piche, area president of Crown Castle. “We grieve the loss of life and our continued prayers go out to the people who were injured and their families. We are grateful for the first responders whose brave actions saved lives.”

Evacuation orders

Also at the news conference, Durham Fire Chief Robert Zoldos said a coffee-shop owner who died would not leave his business when firefighters told everyone inside to get out.

A firefighter went to get police help to remove Kaffeinate owner Kong Lee, “and that is when the building exploded and collapsed,” Zoldos said.

Firefighters were called to the scene at 9:38 a.m. and had to determine the severity of the gas leak before giving evacuation orders.

In an interview after a press conference, Zoldos said a fire captain reached Kaffeinate around 10:04 a.m. Around 10 employees and patrons immediately left the shop when that order was given, but Lee remained. The explosion happened minutes later at 10:07 a.m.

Zoldos said the fire captain is still “shook up” about Lee remaining in the shop.

Search and cadaver dogs have found no additional casualties in the rubble of the deadly gas explosion that also injured more than two dozen other people. At least 15 buildings were damaged in the blast.

A gas leak was also reported at the 21c Museum Hotel on North Corcoran Street on Thursday morning but no leak was found, Zoldos said.

Twenty-five people, including nine firefighters, were injured.

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©2019 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

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