Propane Appears to be Likely Cause of Fatal Berne (NY) House Explosion

Firefighter helmet

Paul Nelson

Times Union, Albany, N.Y.


Jun. 11—BERNE — Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple said investigators looking into last week’s deadly blast that killed an elderly couple are still “leaning heavily towards a propane explosion.”

However, the sheriff cautioned there are other elements that may have also contributed to the tragedy. He did not specify what those other factors might be.

“Everything right now is indicative of a propane explosion,” Apple said, noting “there also may have been some other mitigating factors. We’re still leaning heavily towards a propane explosion, but we still have a long way to go, and we’re still putting a lot of pieces to the puzzle.”

The thunderous explosion — which was felt miles away — at 1470 Hilltop Lane in the hamlet of East Berne at 8:20 p.m. Friday killed homeowners Victor and Lois Porlier, age 83, and 72 respectively, and decimated their home.

Berne is a town of roughly about 2, 771 people that is about 20 miles outside the city of Albany in Albany County.

Apple said Thursday that his office has heard all the gossip about the couple being averse to propane, but that trained fire investigators from his office (who are backed up by their counterparts from the state) are being led by the evidence as they painstakingly sift through the pile of rubble and expansive debris field the blast left behind.

He said Victor Porlier “had everything necessary to live off the grid,” a term that refers to living in a self-sufficient way by creating your own energy and not relying on one or more public utilities.

“He had a windmill that produced energy into the batteries, he had solar, he had geothermal for heat,” said the sheriff, adding Porlier had a propane refrigerator and a propane generator, the latter of which had not been used in a while. “His stove was electric, which was recently replaced, but prior to that it was propane as well, so he was regularly using propane. But yes, we’ve heard the calls as well that he didn’t like propane, and maybe that’s why he was slowly working his way off it.”

The real estate listing online shows that the house was a three-story 5,600 square-foot structure “situated between lakes and parks,” is 1,440 feet above sea level with rock walls, solar panels and a private pond with “over 16 acres with panoramic views to the south and north.”

Some other amenities listed included a mahogany custom staircase with vaulted ceilings and skylights, 54 raised and insulated garden beds, five outbuildings, including two Amish barns, a two-story horse barn and solar panels with battery backup, and geothermal heating and cooling with Air Knight purification.

On Thursday, Apple said that as part of the ongoing probe, investigators have contacted the propane company that delivered the liquefied petroleum gas to the Porlier home.

Propane is mainly used to heat water and the home, as well as for cooking and refrigerating food, clothes drying, and powering farm and industrial equipment, according to information online about the liquefied gas.

Neighbor Helen Lounsbury Galicki told the Times Union over the weekend that the husband and wife, who had auctioned off many of their belongings and had the house on the market, were making plans to relocate down South to be closer to an adult son.

She also said the husband and wife grew their own vegetables because of Lois Porlier’s strict organic diet and she spoke several languages. Victor Porlier, a frequent letter writer to the Altamont Enterprise, was a senior strategy and management consultant, according to his LinkedIn page. He also has a 2017 “Other Voices” podcast on Spotify called “How a liberal became a conservative.”

East Berne Fire Department, Berne Fire Department, Altamont Fire Department, Westerlo Fire Department, New Salem Fire Department, Onesquethaw Fire Department, Helderberg Ambulance, Albany County Sheriff’s Office EMS division all responded to the incident. New York State Police also assisted in the investigation.


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