Natural gas likely to blame for house explosion in Peoria

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Two people were badly burned when a home in Peoria exploded and then burned to the ground Wednesday night. Investigators believe a leaking natural gas line is to blame.

It happened in the area of 79th Avenue and Cholla Street, which is between Peoria Avenue and Cactus Road.

"Two individuals just had their skin melted off their hands and their chests," Andre Perez said as he described the scene.

Both victims were taken to the burn unit. They reportedly suffered burns to 40 to 50 percent of their bodies. Neither one has been identified, but according to Fire Chief Bobby Ruiz, one victim is a man in his 30s and the other is a woman in her 20s.

At last check, neither of the victims was responsive. Doctors have not said anything about their prognoses.

Crews from Southwest Gas spent Wednesday night and most of Thursday morning checking the lines in the area for leaks. Gas was shut off to nearby homes as a precaution.

Firefighters said early in the investigation that natural gas was detected inside the home. Thursday afternoon, the Peoria Fire Department and Southwest Gas said it was a leaking line that exploded.

The victims are remodeling their home. Investigators believe they nicked a gas pipe in the backyard. It's not clear how long the line had been leaking before it blew up.

Investigators have not yet determined the source of the spark that ignited the leaking gas.

One neighbor said he felt ground tremors similar to an earthquake just before hearing the explosion.

Another said she heard two booms and saw blue sparks.

"The flames were just incredible," she said.

"I just felt the whole house shake like somebody drove a car into the house," Perez explained. "You could see the flames from my backyard. The whole house was engulfed in flames."

Investigators returned to the scene Thursday and began sifting through the ruins of the house to try to determine exactly what happened. While they have determined that there was a gas leak, it's not clear how big the leak was or what touched off the explosion.

The main component of natural gas, which is colorless and odorless, is methane. While considered a safe, clean and efficient energy source, natural gas from a leaking or damaged pipe can build up, creating a potentially explosive situation. When gas has accumulated, a tiny spark from something as simple as flipping a light switch or starting an engine can cause it to explode.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.