Mattoon, IL- BY DAWN SCHABBING, Staff Writer

MATTOON — An incident early Sunday morning that destroyed a home and injured a resident there has area residents asking a lot of questions.

Neighbors are still stunned by a natural gas explosion at 3321 Shelby Ave. after an uncapped gas valve was inadvertantly turned on and caused the house to fill with natural gas. The blast damaged homes on at least three sides of the property.

Wayne Siddens, 87, was critically injured when his house was leveled and caught fire when he attempted to light a cigarette, not realizing that natural gas had been escaping into the home. He was upgraded to serious condition at Springfield Memorial Medical Center on Monday.

Natural gas explosions are rare, but that’s mostly because of a safety feature, an additive called mercaptan, which is added to the otherwise odorless and colorless gas.

Mercaptan injected into natural gas gives it an odor that is sometimes compared to rotten cabbage, said Leigh Morris, spokesman for Ameren Corp. in Springfield.

“When used properly, it is a safe clean fuel, but it must be used properly,” said Morris. “Hire only professionals trained to handle piping and ventiliation involving natural gas.”