AP NEWS

Idaho investigators: Leaking propane led to home explosion

April 3, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho state fire investigators say a teen girl who was badly injured in a home explosion told a guardian that she smelled gas the day before the explosion, but the adult disregarded the warning and instead blamed the smell on dirty laundry.

Sixty-nine-year-old Jonathan Robinson Field Jr. was killed in the March 17 explosion that leveled the McCall home. Idaho State Fire Marshal Knute Sandahl says the 15-year-old girl remains hospitalized, but said her recovery has been “miraculous.”

Sandahl said during a press conference Wednesday that investigators determined the explosion happened after heavy snow piled on the home’s propane meter and regulator caused a fracture in the propane pipe within a wall of the home. Leaking propane then pooled in the crawlspace of the house, eventually overflowing into the first floor, where it was ignited by the furnace.

Sandahl said two firefighters were running errands when they heard the explosion. They drove to the scene, where they heard the teen screaming in the wreckage. Armed only with a pressurized fire extinguisher and protective clothing, they were able to find and rescue the girl, he said.

“She owes her life to two very brave firefighters,” Sandahl said.

The town of McCall was inundated with snow in February and as temperatures warmed in March, the heavy, wet snow began sliding off rooftops and tree branches. Investigators believe a load of snow fell on the meter and regulator that operated the home’s propane tank, disabling the devices and putting enough pressure on the connections that a connecting pipe inside the wall of the home fractured and began to leak.

Propane is heavier than air, so the leak continued until the entire 3-foot (0.91-meter) deep crawlspace under the home was filled, Sandahl said.

The force of the explosion was so great that pieces of the wafer board flooring of the home were embedded in a metal air compressor tank, and other debris impaled the exterior walls of nearby homes, Sandahl said.

He said he doesn’t normally hold press conferences to detail his findings after fires, but felt in this case an urgent safety message needed to be shared.

“You have to protect yourself, especially during the wintertime, with the amount of snow,” Sandahl said.

He said residents who use gas should buy alarms or gas detectors, and should take care to immediately dig out meters and regulators if they are covered in snow.