MO – An explosion Friday morning east of downtown Columbia killed a man and sent his wife to the hospital with critical injuries.

Fire crews responded to reports of an explosion at 308 McNab Drive at 11:21 a.m. and arrived to find the house engulfed in 30-foot flames.

Columbia Fire Department Battalion Chief Steve Sapp confirmed that the body of a man in his 80s was found in the basement and his wife was transported to University Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Sapp would not release the names of the victims pending notification of family, but neighbors identified them as the owners of the home, Merna and Carl Sneed.

A hospital spokeswoman said Merna Sneed was listed in critical condition Friday afternoon.

Sapp said the woman was found in the yard and might have been blown out by the force of the explosion. She regained consciousness at the hospital and briefly spoke with police investigators before surgery.

Sapp declined to speculate about what caused the explosion, although a gas line is suspected. Crews from AmerenUE were in the neighborhood investigating after the explosion, along with the Columbia Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit.

Fire crews had to use aerial equipment to squelch the flames because of the awkward topography of the neighborhood, a hilly, wooded area on the fringe of the city’s East Campus area.

“This is one of the more significant fires that we’ve dealt with this year,” Sapp said.

Neighbors said they heard and felt the blast. “It sounded like a tree fell or a car hit the house,” said University of Missouri senior Jessica Schneider, who lives a few blocks away from the home.

Bart Berger, an MU student who lives off Ann Street, said the explosion shook his home. “The first thing I thought was an explosion or a bomb,” he said. “Within minutes, I heard a bunch of fire trucks.”

Berger said he arrived at the scene shortly after emergency crews. “When I first got down here, you’d never make out that this was a house,” he said. “There were major flames, and it went down really quick.”

Berger said the crowd of spectators thinned out after seeing the woman’s singed body on a stretcher. “A lot of people left,” he said. “There was a lot of sympathy.”