Mirrors shattered three blocks away, roof debris shot 100 feet in all directions, and neighbors described a towering fireball and blast louder than a thunder clap after a house exploded in Taylor early Wednesday.
Luckily, the resident, Angela Finstrom, 28, was out bowling with friends, and her three children — ages 6, 4 and 3 — were at their father’s house when the home in the 7000 block of Birch, near Telegraph, exploded at 12:05 a.m.
“No one would have survived something like that,” said Taylor Fire Marshal John Hager, standing in front of a charred couch. “There’s debris in yards five houses away.”
Investigators from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spent most of Wednesday assisting fire officials and representatives from MichCon gas company. By 4:30 p.m., Hager said, the cause had been narrowed to a natural gas leak inside the house.
“We’re still not sure what came first, the fire or the gas,” he said. “We still need to examine the remains of the gas appliances and the pipeline.”
The blast came a week after a natural gas explosion destroyed a home on Ellwood in Berkley.
Scott Simons, a spokesman for DTE Energy, which operates MichCon, a natural gas utility, said the company investigated about 30 house explosions across Michigan last year.
In many cases, he said, investigations reveal that natural gas is not the cause.
But a recent investigation indicated that Consumers Energy accidentally struck a gas line that caused the explosion that destroyed a Green Oak Township home Feb. 1.
Last month, a dog is believed to have opened a gas valve that caused an explosion in Warren.
A gas blast destroyed three houses on Wisconsin in Detroit in September.
Terry DeDoes, a spokesman for Consumers Energy, would not release the number of explosions investigated by the company last year.
But he echoed Simons’ point that many probes eventually rule out natural gas as a cause.
“People often misconstrue who is at fault,” he said. “We had one a couple years ago in Kalamazoo where everyone thought the cause was natural gas. It turned out to be a man using a propane tank improperly in his basement.”
In Wednesday’s blast, the home was leveled.
A scorched boxspring sat atop a neighboring house; pieces of roof were caught in tree branches and children’s toys covered nearby front lawns. A minivan was buried among the debris.
Red Vance, who lives across the street, said he awoke to “something like a big blast of lighting.”
“It scared the heck out of me. I thought a bomb had gone off or something.”
Kyle Frazier, a 13-year-old who lives several blocks away on Pine, said his bedroom mirrors shattered.
“Oh, man, it was loud,” he said.
Neighbors on either side of Finstrom’s house had to be evacuated. A nearby Quality Inn hotel put the families up for free. They may need to stay for several days because of damage to their homes, Hager said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Finstrom packed her few remaining belongings in boxes. She declined to comment.
Buster Linzell and his wife, Beverly, were among the families who had to be evacuated. They live next door to Finstrom.
Their son, Clinton Linzell Jr., 48, said he’s just relieved his parents are all right.
“We live about a mile away, and our house shook,” he said. “We went outside and looked around and then got a phone call that it was Angie’s house — next to my parents. No one was hurt, and that’s what counts the most.”