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Pilot lights possible culprit in deadly Kansas City explosion

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - An investigation into a deadly natural gas explosion that flattened a Kansas City restaurant last month found the blast was set off in the kitchen, where pilot lights on a stove and hot water heater were still burning, according to a report released on Wednesday.

The Kansas City Fire Department's investigation into the February 19 blast that killed a server and injured 15 others concluded that the fire and explosion were both accidental.

While it found the fire originated in the cooking area of the kitchen, it stopped short of blaming the pilot lights as the certain cause for the blast.

The explosion came about an hour after a construction crew severed an underground natural gas line near the restaurant, creating a strong smell of gas. The report listed that as the cause of the leak that led to the explosion.

The explosion killed Megan Cramer, a server at the well-known restaurant. Other employees as well as Missouri Gas Energy workers were hurt, some seriously. The explosion and fire destroyed the restaurant and damaged surrounding buildings.

Firefighters arriving at the restaurant after the odor was detected warned management about the leak and advised them to have all ignition sources in the building extinguished, the report said.

Restaurant staff put out candles at tables and began shutting down other ignition sources in the kitchen, the report said.

But after the explosion, a restaurant manager told a fire investigator that staff did not put out pilot lights on the stove or hot water heater, the report said.

Fire Department spokesman James Garrett declined comment on Wednesday on whether investigators believed the lit pilot lights caused the explosion, but he said the department would have more comment on Thursday.

The report was conducted by the fire department, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

(Editing by James B. Kelleher and Peter Cooney)