Clues sought for cause of Joliet home explosion
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY AND DONNA VICKROY email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org March 25, 2014 2:58PM
A bulldozer clears the scene on Tuesday March 26, 2014, so inspectors can begin searching for clues as to what caused Monday's explosion at a home in the 700 block of Lambeth Lane in New Lenox Township. | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 27, 2014 6:23AM
Hoping to determine the cause of a Monday explosion that leveled a Joliet family’s two-story home, inspectors will try to piece together evidence they found Tuesday when they returned to the scene in the 700 block of Lambeth Lane, Joliet Deputy Fire Chief Ray Randich said.
Meanwhile, the community is rallying around the Klimala family — five kids live in the home with Frank and Natalie Klimala — collecting clothes and household items they will need, and area schools are participating, too.
The Joliet Fire Department concluded its investigation at about 3 p.m. Tuesday but officials did not plan to immediately release any details, Randich said.
Similarly, Nicor spokeswoman Annette Martinez said the gas company was at the “earliest stages” of the investigation and that no possible cause had been ruled out. While officials had not identified what happened at the home, they said an examination of the area indicated that the neighborhood was safe.
Martinez said the utility would continue to work with police and fire officials and the Illinois Commerce Commission to determine the cause.
Nicor fully examined the area and neighboring properties and found no leaks in its system, she said.
“The only we know for sure is that our system is safe,” Martinez said.
When crews returned Tuesday morning, they pumped water out of the basement and used a bulldozer to clear the area so inspectors could reach the basement. The gas meter was retrieved.
“There are plenty of things in the house that could have been the source to set off the explosion,” Randich said. “There are umpteen different variables.”
Gas does not ignite as soon as it leaks but must fall into an “explosive range” of just the right mixture of gas and air, which is between 4 percent and 14 percent gas and between 86 percent and 96 percent air, he said.
“All you need is an ignition source, and there it goes,” he said. An ignition source could be a furnace kicking on or the flip of a switch, he said.
“Fortunately,” no one was home at the time, he said. “In another hour or two, the family would have been home, and this could have had disastrous results.”
According to Randich, Klimala family members left their home about 8 a.m. Monday, heading off to school and work.
Randich said there was “minimal” damage to the house south of the Klimalas’, but during the blaze, the wall of the Klimalas’ house fell onto the house on the north side of it, owned by Jim Forrest.
The Forrest family were able to stay in their home, and Randich did not believe it had any structural damage.
There have been no reports of damage to other homes in the area, he said.
Forrest said he was waiting for insurance adjusters and inspectors Tuesday morning while opening up his house as a headquarters for inspectors and donations for the Klimalas and providing coffee and water to fire officials and others on the scene.
“Those guys saved my house,” Forrest said. “They tell me I am lucky my house is standing.
“I’ve got doors that won’t close and cracks 20 feet long in the walls,” he said, adding that a structural engineer would check out the extent of damage to his home.
On behalf of the displaced family, residents of the Edgecreek Estates subdivision are collecting household goods, gift cards to restaurants and local stores and clothing for boys ages 3, 10 and 13 and girls ages 17 and 19.
Julie Quinn, who is organizing the collection drive, said the family needs basic supplies, such as dishes, sheets, pillows and blankets.
“The kind of things we all take for granted,” Quinn said.
Items can be brought to Quinn’s home, 3001 Carlyle Court, New Lenox, by 5 p.m. Friday or dropped at Liberty Junior High School, 151 Lenox St., New Lenox, between 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. For more information, contact Quinn at (815) 295-1810.
Students at Lincoln-Way West High School, meanwhile, are collecting cash donations in the lunch room through Wednesday, Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 spokeswoman Stacy Holland said.
The insurance company was working with the family to find them temporary housing until they can rebuild, said Frank Klimala’s sister, Joyce Wenzel.
“They plan to rebuild on the same site. They like the neighbors, the neighborhood and the schools,” Wenzel said. “They are still trying to wrap their heads around this. They have no idea what (the cause) might have been.”
She said family members would be meeting to put a plan together for what needs to be done.
Asked what the family’s greatest need was at this time, she said, “Sanity.”
While the neighbors and schools collect donations of clothes and household goods, Wenzel suggested gift cards so they can buy items as they need them.
“As they go along, they will not realize everything they need,” she said.
To help them raise funds, Liberty Junior High will host a Hat Day on Friday, allowing students who would like to participate to wear a hat during school for a minimum donation of $2, according to a nws release from Principal Shane Street.