Expert explains ‘labor-intensive’ process of investigating Arlington home explosion

The charred remains of an Arlington, Virginia, home the day after it exploded.(WTOP/Nick Iannelli)

Fire investigators in Arlington County, Virginia, said there was no timeline as to when they might have concrete answers about what caused a home explosion earlier this week, but they are now in the process of digging through debris at the scene.

It is “labor-intensive work,” according to an expert familiar with such investigations.

“They’re probably going to have to bring in some heavy equipment,” said Stephen Olenick, a fire protection engineer. “It takes a while to get all of that debris out of there and try to find forensic clues.”

While Olenick is not involved with the Arlington investigation, he does have more than two decades of experience in fire and explosion investigations in nearby Maryland.

“In the days or weeks ahead, they’ll probably [have] more answers about what they think the explosion came from, whether it was an explosive or whether it was some sort of thermal event where something flammable got released in the home,” Olenick said.

Arlington fire officials have said gas to the home was turned off before the explosion happened.

Dramatic video of the explosion that was circulated on social media seemed to show the blast starting around “the lower floor on the left hand side,” Olenick said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s going to be a clue for investigators,” he added.

James Yoo, 56, who was identified as the owner of the home by officials was presumed dead following the explosion.

According to police, Yoo had fired a flare gun into his neighborhood dozens of times, prompting officers to show up at his home with a search warrant Monday afternoon.

After trying to get Yoo to come out of his house, officers heard gunfire inside, and then the explosion occurred.

“Officers could not locate the source of the suspected gunfire or its intended target,” said Arlington Police Chief Andy Penn.

Police said they didn’t have prior documented interactions with Yoo, outside of two complaints over the past couple of years made by neighbors who said there was too much noise coming from his house.

“We are aware of concerning social media posts allegedly made by the suspect and these will be reviewed as part of the ongoing criminal investigation,” Penn added of the recently posted, paranoid rants about Yoo’s neighbors and a former co-worker.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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