South Bend, IN – By SUE LOWE

Tribune Staff Writer

Fallon Royal was a very lucky young lady Thursday morning.

The natural gas explosion that rocked the house at 3218 E. Edison Road that the 17-year-old shares with her mother and stepfather, Brenda and Derek White, started only a very small fire.

Royal smelled gasoline when she woke up Thursday.But her mother and stepfather weren’t at home so she went back to bed.

A few minutes later she heard “a big old boom like thunder.” She found a wall pushed out in the living room and a small fire in the kitchen. She called 911 and left the house.

South Bend Fire Battalion Chief Al Kirsits said the smell of natural gas was still so strong in the area when firefighters arrived about 8:10 a.m. that they evacuated the neighbors and shut off the street for about an hour until they determined that the problem was confined to the one house.

The chief NIPSCO investigator was on the way to help firefighters figure out what caused the problem Thursday morning.

“They were very lucky,” Kirsits said of the family. The only thing that burned was some decorations hanging on the kitchen wall.

He said they had not smelled natural gas in the house before, and they had been cooking on the gas stove.

The home is only about seven blocks from the one where 82-year-old Rose Tholander was killed in a natural gas explosion on June 18, 1993.

In that incident, construction workers digging in the area of Pyle Avenue and Edison Road caused a natural gas leak into the crawl space under Tholander’s home at 1359 Pyle Ave.

When Tholander opened the door to the home, an undetermined ignition source caused the home to explode.

Tholander was killed in the blast, and two Northern Indiana Public Service Co. employees were critically injured.

Richard L. Fruit and Joseph “Dave” Shepard were injured and later received a $5.3 million settlement in the case.