Oklahoma Family Blames Gas Tubing For House Fire

Thursday, April 25th 2013, 10:41 pm
By: News 9

Linda Pittman and her extended family were having dinner in their Edmond home two summers ago when they heard a noise.

"I assumed it was lightning," Linda said. "My daughter was holding something, sparks flew out from it and she dropped it."

Linda said a few minutes later, her son-in-law saw flames shooting from the attic and started yelling, "Fire! Fire! Everybody get out!"

With her husband out of town, Linda, her father, adult children and six grandkids ran out of the house. In shock, Linda described the moment as surreal.

"Fortunately I got my car out, my purse, my computer and my cell phone," Linda remembers. "So you're sitting in your car and it's kind of like you're normal. But you're looking at your house burning and you're like 'No, this isn't normal.'"

The Pittman's insurance company says it all could have been prevented.

Oklahoma City attorney Bill Cathcart has represented more than 40 families whose homes caught fire after a lightning strike, including the Pittmans. The common denominator in each of these homes, a product called CSST, corrugated stainless steel tubing.

CSST has been installed in new or remodeled homes as a primary gas source since the early 1990's. It's light weight and flexible. That makes it easy to install. It's also less expensive than black iron pipe. When properly grounded, manufacturers say it's safe. But families like the Pittmans will say otherwise.

Learn more about Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing and other fire safety tips.

John Herren with Sterling Electric says when lightning strikes a home with CSST, the energy arcs through the house's electrical system to the gas lines, creating pin holes in the CSST.

"When the arcing puts in the pin hole," Herren said, "you have ignition and now you have gas source then that makes a torch."

The families Cathcart represents say the CSST is defective in design.

Larry Pittman said when he learned about CSST, "I was really mad because of the dangers of it in your home and people were aware for a long time that this could happen."

The CSST installed in the Pittman's home was manufactured by OmegaFlex, a company the Pittmans,  and their insurance company,  sued after the fire.

A company spokesperson tells News 9 OmegaFlex is not responsible for the fire and it's not clear how it started. The company adds the CSST was not properly installed because it wasn't bonded, making the Pittman's home vulnerable during the lightning storm.

You won't find any CSST tubing in the Pittman's new home. They say they didn't want to take any chances losing anything else.

Linda recalls what she misses most, "My memorabilia, my children's things that I kept were all gone. That's been the hardest part for me.

"I was just so thankful that no one got hurt," Larry said.

The Pittmans are thankful for what truly matters.

The bonding requirement was not added to national gas codes until 2009, years after it was installed in the Pittmans home.

How do we know if CSST is in our homes and if it's bonded correctly?

* Look for flexible tubing. It's usually in either yellow or black coating.

* Most homes will have it in the attic but it's sometimes behind the walls, especially with remodels.

* Check for a bonding clamp,  attached somewhere between the outside gas meter and the first piece of CSST.

* If you're not sure, contact an electrician.


OmegaFlex released the following statement:

"The damage to the Pittman's home is unfortunate, but OmegaFlex is not responsible for the fire.  A direct lightning strike to the home caused the fire, but tests were inconclusive on how the fire started.  Another important fact is that the CSST system was not properly installed - the system was not grounded and bonded as required by the National Electric Code and OmegaFlex's product instructions, a clear lapse in code enforcement.  The failure to follow proper bonding requirements and to enforce the codes left the Pittman's home vulnerable during the lightning storm. 

"A lightning protection system is the only sure way to safeguard a structure from the damage resulting from lightning strikes, an unforeseeable force of nature.  In the absence of a lightning protection system, a properly installed and bonded CSST system is an effective method of reducing damage from lightning strikes.  That is why OmegaFlex has recommended that all electrical systems be bonded since 1999, ten years before the National Fire Protection Association endorsed the practice.  OmegaFlex's continued commitment is reflected in the company's work with the Oklahoma Construction Industries Board and State Fire Marshall to develop the recently enacted regulations mandating home inspectors notify property owners about the importance of properly bonding and grounding CSST systems.

"Safety is OmegaFlex's top priority, which is why we developed CounterStrike, an innovative gas piping product that protects against arcing from an indirect lightning strike without the need for additional bonding.  CounterStrike is keeping homes safe until national bonding standards are established for all metallic systems, including black iron pipe, which also is vulnerable to lightning strikes."