Central Oakland house leveled after Thanksgiving Day explosion


By John Lavanga / A&E Editor

A Thanksgiving Day explosion reduced a Central Oakland property to rubble, but investigators say no injuries have been reported. 

The second floor of a two-story house on Dawson Street erupted in flames at about 7:30 p.m. Thursday. By 3 a.m., the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire had extinguished the flames and used an excavator to reduce the house to a near pile of rubble, neighbors said.

Greg Schaffer, 45, lives next to the house, which was located at 3376 Dawson St. Schaffer said he had just arrived home from work when he heard a “minor explosion” on the second floor of the residence.

He said the explosion also damaged several windows of his home.

“It wasn’t that loud, it just kind of went boom,” Schaffer said.

Schaffer said “the fire came raging out” after the explosion. He said he called the fire department, and the operator said firefighters were already en route to the scene.

Schaffer said he hurried outside and began to fill a garbage can with water to put out the flames until firefighters arrived.

Once the firefighters beat back the flames, Schaffer said it was clear that the explosion had blown holes into two sides of the house, leaving it structurally unstable.

“When [the firefighters] got it out, you could see through the house,” Schaffer said. “That’s when they decided it had to come down.”

The firefighters told Schaffer to temporarily leave his home so they could demolish the building, he said.

Don Brady, 58, who also lives on the same block of Dawson Street, said he arrived home at 3 a.m. to find an excavator working over the rubble left by the explosion and fire.

“It was already down, and they had the big claw out there,” Brady said. “It was all roped out.”

On Friday, the former home was nothing but a mess of splintered wood and crushed cinder blocks. Among the debris, articles of clothing, including a pair of swim trunks and a neatly folded jacket and scarf, suggested that parts of the house were untouched by the flames. 

According to Allegheny County records, General Realty Management Ltd., which is located in Upper St. Clair Township, owns the house. 

The owners of the company could not be reached for comment through a phone number listed online.

Schaffer and Brady said four students occupy the home, but none of the residents were home at the time of the explosion.

John Fedele, a spokesman for Pitt, said that Panther Central is working with the students who resided at the house.

Fedele said he did not have the names of the students affected.

A member of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire’s fire arson investigation unit who answered the phone Friday afternoon said an investigation into the explosion is underway.

The employee declined to provide further details, except to say that the department received a call about the blast at 7:35 p.m. Thursday. The representative would not identify the caller.

The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police could not be reached for comment Friday.