Oaklawn, KS – BY RON SYLVESTER, The Wichita Eagle
Fire investigators said Monday they found a gas leak under the street next to a home that exploded over the weekend on the southeast edge of the city, injuring the parents of a new baby.
The family of Rien Avila, Brittany Bookout and their week-old baby girl, meanwhile, set up a fund through Emprise Bank to help the young couple.
“They lost everything, for the baby and everything,” said JoAnn Hernandez, mother of Avila, who remained in critical condition Monday at Via Christi Regional Medical Center-St. Francis Campus.
Avila, 20, and Bookout, 19, became parents four days before the explosion destroyed their house in the Oaklawn neighborhood.
Authorities and family members said the explosion occurred when Avila lit a cigarette, igniting natural gas inside the house on the corner of Cedardale and Willow Way, near 47th Street South and K-15.
On Monday, Division Chief Tim Millspaugh of the Sedgwick County Fire Department said investigators found a gas leak underneath Willow Way, which runs alongside the house.
“We haven’t determined whether there’s a connection between the leak under the street and the house, but it’s a possibility,” Millspaugh said.
Millspaugh said Kansas Gas Service workers quickly repaired the leak, and the utility will prepare a study on the site to determine whether gas traveled through the earth and into the house.
“We’re not ready to close our book on this yet,” Millspaugh said.
The baby girl was not injured and is now with her mom, who was released from the hospital with burns to her hands and face, family members said.
Avila worked as a hotel maintenance worker and underwent surgery Sunday and is expected to face more operations for third-degree burns later in the week.
JoAnn Hernandez said before her son went into surgery Sunday, he told her:
“Mom, this has been the best week of my life and the worst week.