Explosion investigation under way; neighbors stunned by blast

2011-06-09T10:30:00Z 2011-06-09T15:31:22Z Explosion investigation under way; neighbors stunned by blastBy CHELSEA KROTZER Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette

UPDATE: 10:50 a.m.

Ralph Moerer thought it was his house that exploded.

He was sitting at his kitchen table on Wednesday morning when he heard a blast, followed by photos flying off his walls and dishes coming out of the cupboards.

"I didn't know what happened," Moerer said. "Then I saw the flames shoot out from the house across the way."

The house that actually exploded was two streets up from Moerer's 1412 Teton Ave., home, and was owned by Columbus Mayor Gary Woltermann.

The explosion leveled Woltermann's 1411 Granite Ave., home of 25 years, and caused a home across the street to catch fire. Several other homes nearby had severe damage. Homes several blocks away had reports of broken windows. Preliminary Damage estimates have exceeded $1 million.

Investigators with the Billings Fire Department were back on the scene at 8 a.m. Thursday to find out the cause. The explosion appears to have involved a gas leak, but an official determination hasn't been made.

Police say the explosion does not appear suspicious.

The explosion knocked power out to 40 houses for about an hour on Wednesday, said NorthWestern Energy spokesperson Michelle Sullivan. Twelve houses were still without power on Thursday morning, she said.

Several blocks were evacuated immediately after the explosion. Moerer said he wasn't able to return until about 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

He can see some of what's left of Woltermann's home from his front porch.

"I'll tell ya, it was awful," Moerer said. "There was terrific pressure in the house. It shook you up. I couldn't figure out why the pressure would be so much in a house that was closed up."

His neighbor across the street, Pat Jones at 1419 Teton Ave., wasn't home at the time of the explosion, and said they lucked out as far as damage.

"We lost one basement window and a little plaster fell off," Jones said. "There are cracks in the plaster, but that's it, other than the debris in the back yard.

Jones' granddaughter was at the home at the time of the blast. After feeling the impact, she went outside and saw the smoke and flames.

Soon after, police arrived and evacuated her and Jones' pet dog.

Another house in the neighborhood was destroyed in October, when a huge slab of sandstone sheared off the Rims and plowed into the home of Jon Lodge and Jane Deschner at 1313 Granite, barely a block from Woltermann's house. What remained of the Lodge-Deschner house was demolished last month.

"I've lived here since '59, and there's been nothing except these past two years," Jones said. "But you never know, you just take it as it comes.

 


 Investigators on Thursday will continue their search for what caused a huge explosion that leveled a house and damaged several others in a neighborhood north of Rocky Mountain College on Wednesday morning.

No one was hurt by the blast.

Twelve houses remained without power Thursday morning, said NorthWestern Energy spokesperson Michelle Sullivan. The explosion knocked power out to 40 houses for one hour on Wednesday, she said.

Police were on scene throughout the night barricading streets in the neighborhood surrounding what was left of 1411 Granite Ave., the house leveled by the explosion.

Billings Fire Department Battalion Chief Tim McLeod said investigators were to return to the scene at 8 a.m. Thursday to continue their work.

The explosion appears to have involved a gas leak, but an official determination hasn't been made. Police say the incident does not appear suspicious.

Investigators say the total damage will likely exceed $1 million.

 

 

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