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Michael Leavitt
  • LOCATION: Walnut, California - Mount San Antonio College
  • DATE: December 30, 1995.
  • INJURIES: 15 year old hospitalized, 8 others injured - 3 families homeless.
  • STRUCTURES: 3 condos destroyed.
  • CAUSE: Water heater explosion - Tampered or missing TPR valve.

Youth Hospitalized, 8 Hurt in Explosion of Water Heater


A 15-year-old boy suffered broken ribs, a ruptured spleen and head wounds, and eight other people suffered minor injuries when an electric water heater exploded in a Walnut condominium before dawn Friday.

The 47-gallon heater malfunctioned at 4:38 a.m., shooting through the back wall of the building and landing in an alley 60 feet behind three attached condominiums, according to a sheriff's spokesman.

The heater, which was installed under the stairwell in the middle condominium unit in the 1500 block of Kem Way, apparently did not have a pressure release valve, the spokesman said.Excessive pressure caused the explosion, he said.

The injured teenager, Matthew McDonald, underwent surgery Friday morning. By afternoon his condition was upgraded from critical to serious.

The entire back wall of the central condo was blown off and most windows in all three units shattered, shooting shards of glass 50 feet out on both sides of the building.

One unit separated from the other two.

Residents returned to the complex Friday afternoon, stunned and crying.

"My son went to sleep on the second floor and woke up on the first floor," said Rudy Aquino, the owner of the unit whose water heater exploded, causing the floor of the second story to partially collapse. "I had to dig him out of the rubble. All the time, I could hear [Matthew McDonald] crying out for help. It was horrible."

Aquino did not know what brand of water heater he had, but said that it was at least 20 years old and had not been working well for a few days. Officials are investigating the cause of the malfunction.

"It is strictly a miracle that nobody died here," said Sheriff's Deputy Ron Wilton.

The eight residents who suffered minor injuries were treated at the scene, officials said. They were relocated to a nearby hotel.


Mt. Sac WH Explosion

U.S. Probing Water Heater Blast That Left 3 Families Homeless

Official Business
January 04, 1996

Federal authorities are investigating a massive water heater explosion last week that ripped apart a Walnut condominium triplex, severely injuring a 15-year-old boy and leaving three families homeless, city officials said.

The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission has asked the city for records and assistance in determining whether the electric heater, installed under a stairwell at three attached condominiums in the 1500 block of Kem Way, had a functioning safety valve, said Ron Franzer, a city building inspector.

The heater either did not have a pressure-release valve or, if it had one, the device had been tampered with, leaving no outlet for excessive pressure, Franzer said.

Under state law, building owners must apply for city permits whenever they install a new water heater. A city inspection is required after the installation.

Walnut officials said they had not yet been able to determine when the heater was installed in the 23-year-old building. But an examination of heaters in surrounding triplexes in the 40-unit complex found heaters without valves, Franzer said. Those heaters did not appear to be the original heaters and apparently were installed without permits, he said.

Meanwhile, the city has established a disaster relief fund for the three homeless families and also needs help in finding them housing.



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