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Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Coldwater family of four survives home explosion

Ball of fire rips through house; propane leak is the likely cause

By Shelley Grieshop
A rural Coldwater family escaped what could have been a tragedy Monday night when an explosion occurred inside their home.
No one was injured even though a fire ball reportedly ripped through the two-story home shortly before 9:30 p.m., sporadically burning items throughout the house, according to Coldwater Fire Chief Paul Streaker.
"They were very lucky," he added.
The owners, Don and Shelly Ballinger, and their two children had just returned to the residence at 3259 state Route 219 when the explosion occurred.
"It sounded like a freight train coming from the basement," Don Ballinger said.
He and his wife sat down to relax in the living room after taking their 7- and 9-year-old children trick or treating. The children were tucked into bed upstairs, he added.
After hearing the deafening noise, Ballinger said he and his wife gathered the children and exited the home, calling 911 from their garage. He returned to the home and grabbed a fire extinguisher to put out the flames that were visible in the basement.
"I used the fire extinguisher until I couldn't see anymore," he said, adding the smoke became quite thick in the basement.
The cause of the explosion appears to have been a leak in a propane pipe coming out of the home, Streaker said. He believes gas seeped from a tile into the home where it ignited.
"It was a ball of fire that jumped around the house ... I think it went out a back garage door," he said. "If it (the door) had been closed, this may have been a very different story. We could have had four dead people."
Streaker explained that an explosion of that type inside a closed structure would likely have caused much more damage, perhaps blown the home off its foundation.
When firefighters arrived, only a small fire remained in the basement near a sump pump, although smoke was noticeable throughout the home. Fire damage mostly was contained to the basement, however, several items upstairs appeared singed. A basement sofa was burned, carpeting was left with scorch marks and several kids' toys were melted.
The combustion of the fire ball forced picture frames off the walls upstairs and blew items off shelves in the kitchen, Ballinger said. Drop ceilings fell in several rooms, he added. At the moment he's unsure if the structure of the home was affected; he is awaiting insurance adjusters.
The home is insured.
The family is staying next door with relatives but hope to be back in the home in a few days.
"Right now we just feel lucky to be alive," Ballinger said. "The fire department did a great job. They came back to the house a couple times afterwards to test the gas lines to make sure everything was OK."
Streaker said the fire department was on the scene for about two hours but he and another firefighter stayed several hours longer awaiting a state fire marshal inspector to help determine the cause. The incident remains under investigation.
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