Concoran, Mn – A man’s body was pulled Wednesday evening from the rubble of a Corcoran house that exploded and was leveled by propane-fed flames hours earlier.
Daniel Johnson, 43, had been at home alone Tuesday night and had not been heard from since shortly before the house exploded Wednesday morning.
The body was found about 6:15 p.m. and was taken to the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office, which will make a positive identification, said Ron Rahman, a deputy state fire marshal.
Johnson, a construction supervisor, and his wife had noticed a “furnace smell” Tuesday night. That prompted Pam Johnson to take their 2-year-old son and stay elsewhere, said Corcoran Police Chief Sean Gormley.
Johnson stayed behind in the sprawling rambler the couple had bought last month.
Gormley said the couple traded cell-phone messages about 7 a.m. Wednesday. Twenty minutes later police received calls about an explosion and fire at the 4,400 square-foot house. Johnson’s charred pickup truck was found in the rubble.
Pam Johnson stayed at a neighbor’s house most of the day Wednesday and declined to talk to reporters.
Large pieces of debris made recovery work difficult, because heavy equipment wasn’t being used, said Rick Kleis, chief investigator for the state fire marshal’s office. He spoke at a 4 p.m. news conference amidst farm fields surrounding the couple’s house in the 6800 block of County Rd. 19.
A cadaver-sniffing dog helped search for the victim.
The ignition source is not yet known but Kleis said he believes a spark ignited the propane gas, causing the explosion and fire that engulfed the house.
It took 50 firefighters from six departments about two hours to control the fire, said Loretto Fire Chief Herb Koch. Only parts of the chimney were left standing.
The couple had their 1,000-gallon liquefied propane tank filled Tuesday night, Kleis said. The tank sat more than 50 feet from the house and fed the fire until a firefighter shut off the gas, Kleis said.
Dan and Pamela Johnson, 40, bought the large rambler-style house that sat on 10 acres for more than $750,000 in January.
They were living in the lower level while the upper level — kitchen, living room and dining room — was being remodeled, said authorities and friends.
After noticing the “furnace smell,” the couple had a propane company come out and fill the tank. They called someone to inspect the furnace Wednesday morning, authorities said, but the house exploded before any repairman arrived.
A neighbor who lives about a quarter-mile away said he was downstairs in his house when he heard the explosion.
“It rattled the house, rattled the windows,” said Larry Hutchins.
He ran outside, where a line of trees partly obscured the Johnsons’ house.
“All of a sudden the whole house was engulfed and you could see the flames just lapping over the trees,” he said.
Hutchins said the flames shot about 30 to 40 feet in the air.
Pat Finn of Otsego, a friend of Dan Johnson’s, said Johnson was a talented carpenter and “an artist” at making furniture. He said Johnson remodeled a house for one of Finn’s relatives and built a cabin from the ground up for Finn’s sister.
Finn said he had known Johnson since he was a boy growing up in the Crosslake area north of Brainerd, Minn.
“He is a fantastic guy,” Finn said. “Always had a smile. He’d help anybody when they had a need.”
Marilyn Bina and her husband sold the house to the Johnsons.
“I’m just sick,” Bina said. “This was going to be [the Johnsons’] dream home.”
The Johnsons moved to Corcoran from Rogers, where they lived next door to Mary Nelson for six years.
They married there and had their son, Aiden, Nelson said. They told her about the country house they’d found and had to have. It had lots of room for Dan’s workshop, Nelson said.
Dan was a quiet, easygoing guy, Nelson said. He was generous and gave the Nelsons a vanity and countertop from his construction work and helped Nelson’s husband install them. The couple were delayed in moving because their Rogers house was damaged by a tornado last September, and they had to replace the roof and some siding, Nelson said.
“I am in shock. I can’t imagine. Aiden is just 2,” Nelson said. “This is just absolutely tragic.”