Was faulty furnace to blame for house explosion?

Two people were killed and dozens of homes were damaged in Indianapolis by an explosion Saturday.

INDIANAPOLIS —  The owner of a house that exploded in Indianapolis says he wonders if a faulty furnace might have been to blame for the blast that killed two people and destroyed or damaged dozens of homes.

John Shirley told The Associated Press on Monday that he received a text message last week from his daughter about a problem with the furnace at the house the girl shares with her mother and her mother's boyfriend.

John Shirley says no one was home at the time of the explosion.

His ex-wife, Monserrate Shirley, declined to comment Monday.

Indiana real estate records show the house had been for sale for a year until it was taken off the market in March.

With no hint of a problem in advance, in particular no tell-tale smell of a gas leak, authorities and residents in the southern Indianapolis neighborhood are trying to make sense of an enormous blast that obliterated two homes and made dozens more uninhabitable.

Fire officials expressed amazement that only two people died in the late Saturday explosion so powerful that the devastation spread for blocks from its epicenter. Hundreds of residents were forced to evacuate their Richmond Hill homes, some never to return. Windows and doors were blown in. The blast rocked several houses entirely from their foundations and was so loud it awoke people three miles away. A fire burned for hours, engulfing dozens of homes.

Early Monday, Indianapolis public safety director Troy Riggs said forensic investigators were talking with utility companies and others as they tried to determine the cause.

"We need to make sure that we get some of the forensics back and that we follow where the evidence takes us," Riggs told WISH-TV.

IMAGE: Two cars sit in a home that was heavily damaged by the explosion.AP Photo: Darron Cummings

 

U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, who represents the area, has said he had been told a bomb or meth lab explosion had been ruled out.

Deputy Fire Chief Kenny Bacon said investigators hadn't ruled out any possible causes.

Citizens Energy had received no calls from people in the area smelling the rotten eggs of a chemical added to natural gas, which is odorless, utility spokesman Dan Considine said.

"Most of the time when there's a gas leak, people smell it," he said. "But not always."

Carson said the National Transportation Safety Board and the federal Department of Transportation, which have oversight over pipelines, were sending investigators.

Riggs said police officers and investigators would continue to search and secure the neighborhood on Monday.

"It could take some time. We've asked people to be patient," Riggs told WRTV.

Dan Able, a 58-year-old state employee who lives across the street from the flattened homes, was puzzled by the blast.

"I'm wondering about all the possibilities it could be," he said.

Authorities set up relief operations at a school and church to shelter those displaced in the blast. Some moved in with friends and relatives. Others found hotel rooms.

Alex Pflanzer was sound asleep when the explosion blew out his windows and his wife started to scream.

"I didn't know what was going on," Pflanzer said. "I thought someone was breaking in the house, because the alarm was going off."

Pflanzer grabbed his gun and checked the house. Then he noticed the front door was open and saw a reddish glow flickering outside.

IMAGE: Red Cross worker Lori Burts helps Dan Able with food items at a shelter set-up for the victims whose homes were damaged by the house explosion.AP Photo: Darron Cummings

"I walked outside and all the houses were on fire," he said.

The Pflanzers and their two dogs found a hotel room, but they couldn't coax their panic-stricken cat out of a crawlspace.

"All the material things can be replaced, so I'm not worried about that stuff," he said. "People are a lot worse off than I am. People died, and so our thoughts and prayers go out to them first."

Officials have not released the identities of the two people killed. A candlelight vigil was held Sunday night at Southwest Elementary School in nearby Greenwood for second-grade teacher Jennifer Longworth. She and her husband, John Dion Longworth, lived in one of the homes destroyed in the blast. WTHR-TV reported that friends, family and colleagues of the teacher gathered at the school.

Deputy Code Enforcement Director Adam Collins said 80 homes were damaged including 31 that might need to be demolished. He estimated the damage at $3.6 million.

Some residents were allowed to return to their homes under police escort Sunday, but just to retrieve a few belongings. Others whose homes weren't as badly damaged were allowed to return, but officials said they would have to do without electricity overnight. And others, officials said, never will be allowed to go back inside their homes.

"There are houses that will have to be torn down," Bacon said.

He said the toll could have been much worse. "I know we're very fortunate that some of the people weren't home," he said.

Officials said at least two dozen off-duty police officers who live on the city's south side rushed to the scene to help with the rescue effort. More than 80 firefighters battled flames and searched the wreckage of homes for trapped survivors.

At the Southport Presbyterian Church shelter, tables were piled high with blankets, food, diapers, water and other supplies. An animal shelter on the south side of the city offered free boarding for pets whose owners had nowhere to take them.

Rev. Rob Hock said hundreds of congregants had shown up to help after he put out a call during Sunday morning services.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bacon said investigators had not eliminated any possible causes for the blast. But U.S. Rep. Andre Carson, who represents the area, said he had been told a bomb or meth lab explosion had been ruled out.

Dan Able, a 58-year-old state employee who lives across the street from the flattened homes, was puzzled by the blast.

"I'm wondering about all the possibilities it could be," he said. "I don't know how a gas leak could do that kind of damage."

"We just don't know" what the cause was, said police spokesman Kendale Adams. "We're working to get to the bottom of it."

Dan Considine, a spokesman for Citizens Energy, said the utility had not received any calls from people in the area smelling the telltale rotten-eggs smell of a chemical added to natural gas, which is odorless.

"Most of the time when there's a gas leak, people smell it," he said. "But not always."

Carson said the National Transportation Safety Board and the federal Department of Transportation, which have oversight over pipelines, were also sending investigators.

Bryan and Trina McClellan were at home with their 23-year-old son, Eric, when the shockwave from the blast a block away knocked out the windows along one side of their house.

Their first instinct was to check on their grandchildren, two toddlers who were in the basement. One held his ears and said, "Loud noise, loud noise."

Eric McClellan said he ran to the scene of the explosion.

"Somebody was trapped inside one of the houses, and the firefighters were trying to get to him. I don't know if he survived," he said, adding that firefighters ordered him to leave the area.

Once the flames were out, firefighters went through what was left of the neighborhood, one home at a time, in case people had been left behind, Fire Lt. Bonnie Hensley said.