Monday, November 12, 2012

Homeowner's Ex-Husband Blames Faulty Furnace As Possible Cause Of Explosion

It seems a bit incredulous, but the ex-husband of the owner of the home which exploded last Saturday night killing a couple in the neighboring home and destroying dozens of other homes suggests a faulty furnace in the home may be the culprit of the explosion that was heard and felt as far away as 10 miles. John Shirley told WRTV that he received a text message from his 12-year old daughter complaining about the furnace not working in the home she shares with her mother, Monserrate Shirley, and her mother's boyfriend. The daughter told her father that the family was staying in a hotel because the furnace had stopped working. Nobody was at the home the night of the explosion according to John Shirley. WRTV says Monserrate declined to speak to their reporter when contacted today. Earlier this year, she had the home listed for sale. Gas-fueled furnaces can and do explode, but it's hard to believe an explosion of this magnitude could have been caused by a faulty furnance without some other contributing factor.

The Indianapolis Star has a slightly different story it posted online this afternoon. The Star quotes John Shirley as saying the furnace was subsequently working, but he didn't know if it had been repaired. The Star quotes John Shirley as saying his ex-wife and her boyfriend were at a casino Saturday night when the explosion occurred. His daughter was staying at a friend's house and their cat was being boarded according to the ex-husband. Monserrate also declined to speak to the Star, which adds this item about a restraining order she has against her ex-husband and a past domestic disturbance:
John Shirley said his ex-wife and daughter are staying with the family of Monserrate Shirley’s boyfriend. John Shirley said his access to them is limited because his ex-wife has a protective order against him and has full custody of his daughter, he said.
Police responded to a domestic disturbance at the home in February 2011, according to an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department report. John Shirley’s then-girlfriend told police that Monserrate Shirley, 47, had assaulted her, according to the report. John Shirley said his ex-girlfriend later declined to press charges. The Star couldn’t confirm that information because courts were closed Monday for Veterans Day.
The house had been for sale earlier this year, listed at a price of $149,000, but was pulled off the market in March, according to real estate listings. The house had an electric oven and range, but a gas furnace and gas water heater as well as a wood burning fireplace with gas starter, according to descriptions.
A spokesman for Citizens Energy reconfirms that the utility has found no gas main leaks in the Richmond Hill subdivision where the explosion occurred. The utility also says it had no reports of gas leaks prior to the explosion, including the home of Monserrate Shirley. Investigators have not ruled out any potential causes yet. Fox 59 News' Russ McQuaid is also reporting that Monserrate Shirley recently filed bankruptcy and the bank that holds the mortgage to the home had begun foreclosure proceedings against her.

UPDATE: A source very familiar with gas-fired residential furnaces tells me the furnace would have been leaking for a considerable period of time in the home in order to build up enough pressure in a tightly-enclosed home to cause anything approaching the explosion witnessed Saturday night, and the source was still doubtful that a gas furnace leak alone would have triggered that large of an explosion. The gas company installs a regulator that considerably restricts the flow of gas into individual homes from the meter. Because the home was unoccupied, typically you would look to an electrical device kicking on that would be the triggering device of an explosion from a gas leak. Due to the unusually warm temperatures over the weekend, it's unlikely the furnace would have kicked on by 11:00 p.m. Saturday. The source says the circumstances of this explosion sends up a lot of red flags for investigators. A professional arsonist would know how to time a trigger after creating a gas leak by calibrating the amount of gas pressure that would need to be built up in an enclosed structure over a period of time to cause the desire explosion according to the source. WTHR's expert, John Mull seems to agree with my source:

"You would not get this type of explosion from an instantaneous leak. Whatever is leaking here has been contained and building up for some time, undoubtedly, to have that type of effect.
"The people in the ground doing the work and in the holes looking and photographing, testing and taking samples, they will get the right answer."
Mull says he would be looking for a crater in the home's basement, which is not visible from the aerial photos. "I wonder about a crater. If there is a crater, perhaps in the basement of the initial house, that actually served as a vessel that contained that explosive gas." He also dismissed suggestions a down plane or drone caused the explosion. "If you had something like a drone or a plane, you're going to have evidence left behind. They're metal and that type of evidence is going to be there. I have not heard of anything like that being found." For some reason, there was some wild speculation all over the Internet today that a drone caused Saturday night's explosion.


M Theory said...

I am not sure, but those types of houses are not usually built on basements are they? Aren't most of them built on slabs?

Gary R. Welsh said...

The big aerial photo on the front-page of the Star appeared to reveal basement walls in the remnants of the home in question.

varangianguard said...

Truly, an odd coincidence that all occupants of the house in question were absent, including the pet. Maybe it's time to involve some criminal investigators, just in case?