A 55-year-old man was critically injured when a home exploded around noon Thursday near I-135 in Harvey County.

Terry Reynolds was trying to light a hot water heater in his home in the 3200 block of North Main when a propane leak caused the explosion, according to North Newton Police Chief Ray Classen.

“The whole house exploded,” Classen said. “It lifted the house off of its foundation – it was lifted out of the north side and south side both.

“He could’ve been killed instantly.”

Although badly burned, Reynolds was able to drive his truck to North Newton City Hall, about eight blocks away, Classen said.

Reynolds’ hair, back and hands were burned, and his shirt was “falling off of him” when he made it to the City Hall to get help, Classen said.

“His fingers were burned so bad he couldn’t dial his cell phone,” Classen said of Reynolds. “He drove to City Hall and asked a clerk to dial 911 for him.”

Reynolds was transported by Newton EMS to Via Christi Regional Medical Center, St. Francis Campus, in Wichita, where he remained in critical condition Thursday in the hospital’s burn unit, according to a hospital spokesperson.

According to Classen, Reynolds had been renting the home adjacent to I-135. No motorists called to report seeing an explosion, said Scott Metzler, Newton Fire Department battalion chief. The home was surrounded by trees.

The fire was out by the time firefighters arrived, Metzler said. Newton Fire Department officials continue to investigate.

Reynolds’ home just north of town was fueled by propane, Metzler said, instead of natural gas.

“Propane is heavier than air, and it tends to fall down into the basement and collect in the lower areas” when there is a leak, he said.

“It just so happens that’s where most water heaters are located,” Metzler said. “Good ventilation is paramount when lighting a pilot light on a water heater.

“Propane has a strong smell, so if you smell something, you should not light a pilot light.”