Minneapolis, MN- David Chanen, Star Tribune

Leucy Irving was driving home Thursday from a long-planned family reunion in Mississippi when she took a cell-phone call from her son in Minneapolis. “Mom, the house blew up,” he said. “What? How much of it?” said the startled 68-year-old.

“All I could see was the chimney. Nobody would have gotten out alive,” her son said. Irving’s house was leveled within minutes by what Minneapolis fire investigators are speculating was a natural gas leak. But as Irving put it, she and the other five people who live at what used to be 2407 Upton Av. N. are alive today because of the Lord’s will.

Walking around the pile of burned wood and crushed concrete, all Irving could say was, “This is a whole house. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

The fire started about 4:50 a.m. and was put out within 30 minutes. Firefighters quickly learned that the house was empty except for a man whose whereabouts couldn’t be confirmed. Neighbors, however, told firefighters he had gone fishing the day before.

Irving bought the house seven years ago for her daughter but moved in two years ago after her daughter moved to Las Vegas. Irving was comforted by another daughter, Jennette Harvey, and her two children, who had also gone to the family reunion. She surveyed the rubble, trying to identify any salvageable personal items. Nothing was found.

“I thought this was a dream,” Harvey said. “I’m most grateful my family wasn’t home.” The other house damaged by the fire belongs to Lance Snider, who, with his wife and three children, was sleeping when the blast occurred. The explosion shattered nearly every window on the side nearest to Irving’s home.

Observing the destruction outside, Snider saw that Irving’s front door had been blown across the street and pinned under a car. A 12-foot-by-15-foot chunk of wall landed near Irving’s garage in the alley. Half of the house fell on Snider’s home, and the other side dropped into the empty yard, he said. Then the roof collapsed and disintegrated into ashes.

Snider was in the process of selling his home because his family is moving to the Caribbean to do missionary work. He joked that he had already sold many of the household items and would now have even less to ship.

“I’m not exaggerating. The flames were 60 feet high and were burning the top leaves on the trees,” he said. “All I can say is God is great for the fact we’re all alive.”

Mary Hall lives across the alley behind Irving’s house. She heard a big boom that shook her house. As she looked out, Hall said, she saw Irving’s roof lift into the air and fall. She and other neighbors gathered outside the burning house to pray for the people they believed were still inside. Glass was scattered all over the street, and a window frame was dangling on a tree limb.

Hall saw Irving on Thursday afternoon after she came home from the family reunion. Irving was sitting on Snider’s front stoop, sipping a glass of water that another neighbor had brought her. It was the first time the two woman had actually met. “Sorry it has to be on these terms,” Irving said.

Gawkers drove by the home, and school buses continued to drop off students on the nearby corner. Ron Price, who lives two blocks away, stopped across the street with his golden retriever and shook his head in disbelief. Earlier in the day he had heard siren after siren and then woke to see the billowing smoke. “My parents and I saw a home in Madison, Wisconsin, where somebody died in an explosion, and this house looks pretty much the same,” he said.

While Irving gazed out at the remains of her home, Bishop Herman Hubbard said he would find a place for her to stay. He was in town for a conference for the Jesus Joy Jubilee National Fellowship and was contacted by Irving’s longtime pastor at Trinity Tabernacle in north Minneapolis.

Their conversation ranged from the murder of her son Joe Melton more than 10 years ago to the explosion. Hubbard asked God to sustain her. “She’s a prayer warrior,” he said. “That paid off today.” While she was sad about all the things she’ll never be able to replace, Irving quickly returned to the reality expressed by her other family members. “All of us would have been dead today,” she said. “All of us.”