Richfield, MO- Standing near the crater where Dennis Kleven’s Richfield home stood until it was leveled Thursday by an apparent gas blast, neighbor Mohammed Juma said he hadn’t felt such a strong explosion since he observed the 1965 war between Pakistan and India.

“It was huge,” said Juma, who was home at the time an explosion destroyed Kleven’s home at 7615 11th Ave. S. in Richfield with a force that sparked a fire on Juma’s north wall, severely damaging two bedrooms and his basement.

The last time Juma felt a similar blast, he lived in Karachi, Pakistan, during one of several armed conflicts between that south Asian country and its larger neighbor, India.

Kleven. Juma’s next-door neighbor, was away from home at the time of the explosion that destroyed his house, which he purchased for $199,900 in early 2005.

In the aftermath, officials of the Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety, state fire marshal’s office and Richfield fire officials are combing through the debris to determine what caused the home to explode.

Standing near at the edge of a taped-off area surrounding the exposed foundation of Kleven’s home, Ron Rahman, deputy state fire marshal, surveyed the scene and said, “What a mess,” before returning to work in the exposed basement of Kleven’s lot.

Brad Sveum, chief of the Richfield fire department who currently is heading the investigation of the explosion and ensuing fire, said, “It does appear to have all the earmarks of a natural gas explosion.”

But, Sveum was quick to add, “There is much information that has to be put together.”

In the end, it will likely be several months before an official cause of the explosion is determined.

Thursday’s blast charred the southwest corner of the home’s foundation, indicating that the explosion could have started in that part of the basement, which is less than 10 feet from the north wall of Juma’s house.

Sveum said that wall sustained heavy fire damage, and that Richfield fire crews pulled the wood siding off Juma’s home at 7621 11th Ave. S. to make sure than residence was safe.

But even Friday, there was no shortage of evidence on the scene – largely an indication that officials trying to piece together what sparked the explosion are leaving evidence where it landed the day before.

A Pontiac Grand Am on the north side of the house was gutted by fire, including the car’s interior seats, dashboard and door handles. The fire was hot enough to singe off all but about one-fourth of the car’s gold paint and melt the vehicle’s back window.

Home debris was strewn about the yard, including chunks of wall, one laying atop the Grand Am, parts of kitchen cabinets and two smoke detectors, and plenty of small pieces of glass scattered all over the yard.

Amid gawking by neighbors and rubber-neckers driving slowly by the site, Robyn Goolsbey, a friend of Kleven’s from his days at Bloomington Jefferson High School, rushed up and asked “Where’s Denny? I was worried about him!”

Goolsbey, a manager of the Hyatt Place hotel near the Mall of America, said she could provide Kleven and members of his family temporary housing during their search for a new place to live or wait for a replacement house to rise.

Thursday’s Richfield home explosion marks at least the third Twin Cities home in the last eight months to be destroyed by a natural gas explosion.

The previous two homes, located 2014 Villard Ave. in St. Paul and 5000 Arden Ave. S. in Edina and St. Paul, exploded and burned during separate utility accidents on Feb. 1 and Feb. 23, respectively.

Although sewer work was being done in the area near Kleven’s home and the natural gas service had recently been turned off at his home, Sveum said at this time he does not think the sewer work along 11th Avenue South is related to the explosion Thursday – the same day that gas service to the residence had been turned back on.

Sveum said the ultimate cause of the blast could be uncovered by a digger that was scheduled to scoop charred remnants of the home from the basement Friday afternoon.

“If they feel the need to do forensic testing, this all could take a couple of months,” he said.

State officials got involved with natural gas utilities CenterPoint Energy and Xcel Energy in the aftermath of the February home explosions because both of those blasts happened after gas lines or mains outside the homes were compromised.

A gas line inadvertently punched through a clay sewer main caused the St. Paul blast, when a plumber cleaning out the sewer line accidentally hit that gas line. The Edina explosion was caused when a crew hit a properly marked gas main.

The Richfield incident comes as the beginning of 2010-11 winter heating season approaches, and utilities are urging customers to have their furnaces cleaned or replaced to ensure safe operation.

The silver lining? No one was killed or injured in the St. Paul, Edina or Richfield incidents.