A homeowner’s faulty installation of a natural gas water heater caused an explosion and fire two weeks ago that killed him and his wife in the home he built more than a year ago. half a century, officials said Wednesday.
The July 27 incident at the home in the 200 block of 21st Ave N. claimed the lives of Hubert “Herb” Vassar, 85, and Sharon Vassar, 83, shook screens in nearby homes and could be heard up to 15 blocks away. .
Officials from the State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Hopkins Fire Department “learned that the residence’s water heater had recently been replaced and a gas line had not been reattached after the ‘installation,’ a statement from the fire department read. “This allowed gas to seep into the residence and ignite.”
Fire Chief Dale Specken told the Star Tribune that Herb Vassar “may have removed the gas clothes dryer to access and replace the water heater” in the basement of the home he built in 1961.
“So we believe [he] replaced the water heater and put the dryer back in place and failed to attach the line to the dryer and turned on the gas to the water heater and the dryer,” the chef continued, “filling the sub- ground of gas and causing the explosion”.
Specken said Herb Vassar had not obtained a city-issued permit as required for such a task, “but it’s not uncommon for someone installing their own to not receive a permit.”
The fire department said investigators have not yet identified what ignited the natural gas, but sources vary from flipping a light switch to static electricity to pilot lights. Firefighters described the fire as accidental in nature.
Scott Waryan, who grew up in the neighborhood, said Herb Vassar kept the property in good repair and often worked on projects.
David Viland, 73, said on the day of the fire he was reading the news in the street when he heard the boom. It shook his house, he said, reminding him of bombs or heavy artillery from his time serving in Vietnam.
Viland walked down the street to see his neighbor’s house engulfed in flames. Within 15 minutes, he collapsed.
“Standing in the street here, I felt the heat on my face,” Viland said.
The Vassars were married for nearly 64 years and raised five children in the home “where they tended a meticulous lawn and garden,” according to their online obituary. Survivors include 11 grandchildren.
Herb Vassar “was a carpenter by trade and a proud member of the union throughout his career,” reads the obituary.
Sharon Vassar was secretary of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, “and was very proud of her work and contributions to saving endangered species,” the obituary notes.
Services for the Vassars are scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church, St. Joseph Campus, 1310 Mainstreet, Hopkins, with a funeral service to follow at St. Margaret’s Cemetery, Bren and Shady Roads Oak in Minnetonka. Visiting hours are Thursday from 4-8 p.m. at the Washburn-McReavy Hopkins Chapel, 1400 Mainstreet.