Cause Of Harrisonburg Explosion Still Unknown

Oct 18, 2020

Smoke billows into the air following the explosion.
Credit Bridget Manley

Questions still remain in an explosion in Harrisonburg Saturday that rocked the city and was felt for miles. WMRA’s Bridget Manley has this report.

Firefighters battle the blaze Saturday morning.
Credit Bridget Manley

Investigators are still working to determine what caused the explosion and fire that leveled Park Place Plaza in Harrisonburg early Saturday morning on Miller Circle and South Main Street. Harrisonburg City Spokesman Michael Parks says that investigators will be on the scene throughout the next few days trying to determine what caused the blast.

Parks says that due to the size of the incident, they have a large team working on the investigation, and are interviewing anyone who witnessed the fire.

Most of the building was leveled during the explosion and fire.
Credit Bridget Manley

Parks says that right now, investigators have “no reason whatsoever” to believe the incident was nefarious in nature in any way, despite rumors on social media that the explosion may have been deliberate. Parks also confirmed that this is not a criminal investigation at this time.

Two people were seriously injured in the explosion and flown to the University of Virginia Medical Center with life-threatening injuries. A third victim, a student from James Madison University participating in an ROTC activity in a parking lot nearby, was treated at Sentara RMH Hospital for cuts as a result of flying debris from the explosion. Two other JMU students were treated for minor injuries on the scene, according to a release by JMU.

Bluestone Bike and Run, across the street, sustained damages.
Credit Bridget Manley

Matthew Tobia is the Fire Chief for the City of Harrisonburg. He could not confirm if the two serious injuries were employees at any of the businesses affected.

MATTHEW TOBIA: At this time, all of the injured individuals were outside the structure upon our arrival. There’s no way for us to know where those victims might have been prior to the explosion.

The Plaza was a total loss.
Credit Bridget Manley

Tobia described the scene as they arrived.

TOBIA: When I arrived on location, we had what appeared to be a building that had sustained severe damage, we had active fire throughout the entire building with a large debris field in the area. We had numerous bystanders who had jumped in an effort to try and help bring aid to the initial victims, and we were fortunate that they were here providing that initial help. And then we were quickly able to gain control of the perimeter, and then control of the scene.

Firefighters battle what's left of the fire at Park Place Plaza.
Credit Bridget Manley

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam tweeted later Saturday morning that the cause was a gas explosion, but city officials were quick to say that the cause had not yet been determined.

MICHAEL PARKS: There may be some misinformation that has reached the Governor's Office. We are still trying to determine a cause. But at this time we do know the incident was contained to this location.

Five businesses in the shopping center -  Element Vapors, Naza Salon and Barber Shop, Hometown Music, Blue Sprocket Sound, and Harrisonburg Halal Market and Sweets were total losses. Other businesses in the circle - Bluestone Bike and Run, Funky’s Skate Center, and Wendy’s, sustained significant damages in the blast. Debris from the explosion hung in the surrounding trees and was spread across several blocks.