Royalton, MN- By David Unze

ROYALTON — A Royalton man is lucky to be alive today after his house exploded Tuesday morning in a freak accident.

Ben Kuklok sustained minor burns and was in good condition late Tuesday at St. Cloud Hospital. His house exploded into shreds about 5:15 a.m. as he was getting ready for work. Rescue workers found a startled Kuklok wandering in his yard at 711 Birch St. N.The blast could be heard and felt blocks away.

Fire and gas company officials were looking for a gas leak they thought caused the blast. That Kuklok’s house exploded was shocking to neighbors, family and rescue officials because Kuklok had no gas service or propane at his house.

Speculation was that frost caused the ground to contract and crack a gas pipeline, forcing the gas into the ground and eventually into Kuklok’s house from underneath, Royalton Police Chief Jeff VanGrinsven said. Kuklok had just turned off a light in his bedroom when the house exploded.

“I heard a snap like a bomb going off, and I popped up and said ‘What on Earth is going on?’ ” said David Nelson, who was asleep in the house next to Kuklok’s. Nelson went outside to find insulation and other debris from Kuklok’s house in his front yard. Kuklok’s house was transformed into a pile of rubble, with a stainless steel sink and ceiling fan visible on top of the debris. Some of the wreckage crashed into Nelson’s garage.

Firefighters extinguished a small fire in the rubble, but no other injuries or damage was reported. Houses on either side of Kuklok’s were evacuated as the search for the gas source began.

It was unclear what type of piping was carrying the gas to the houses near Kuklok’s. Corrosion is the number-one cause of failure in steel piping, said Charles Kenow, administrator at the state’s Office of Pipeline Safety, which was investigating the accident. A shift about 10 years ago has seen almost all residential pipeline become plastic, he said.

The cause of this crack is “speculation until we dig up the pipe and look at it,” Kenow said. “I wouldn’t want to get into that. There could be corrosion. It could be that it was nicked one time and didn’t show up until now. Certainly frost” could be the cause.

That a neighborhood would have a home with gas service next to a home with electric-only service “is definitely a unique situation,” Kenow said. Normally there’s one or the other, he said.

There’s also virtually no way to prevent an underground crack caused by nature or animals digging, he said.

“The main thing is if people smell gas, they need to call their local utility. If it’s strong, call 911 and get out of the house,” Kenow said. “Call from a safe location and let a professional check it out.”

Nelson smelled the gas a few days ago, he said, but he removed propane tanks from his garage and the smell wasn’t as strong. He thought the remaining gas smell was from a liquid propane supplier about a block away.

Kenow hoped to have more answers today, after the pipe was exhumed and examined. He stressed how lucky Kuklok was to have survived such a devastating explosion.Kenow also stressed the need for people to call 911 and get out of their home if they smell gas.

“This is what we learned from St. Cloud a number of years ago,” he said, referring to the downtown natural gas explosion that killed four people and injured more than a dozen. “If there’s that much gas in the house and someone else has smelled it, call and they’ll send out technicians.