Hudson, IA – A Hudson woman was airlifted to University Hospitals in Iowa City after being injured in a liquid propane explosion at her home Friday afternoon.
Family and friends identified the victim as Donna Firgard, 65, of 6718 Watters Road. Sources said she was alone in the home at the time of the explosion and subsequent fire a little before 4 p.m.
No condition report was available Friday night.
Sgt. Larry Wessels, an investigator with the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office, said the water heater in the southwest corner of the basement went out and the explosion occurred when Firgard tried to relight it.
“As far as I know she was able to walk out on her own,” Wessels said. “She’s a very lucky lady.”
Witnesses, though, said Firgard’s injuries were severe. Lyle and Marge Taylor, who live across the street from the Firgards, were two of the first people at the scene. They were one of multiple neighbors to call 911 to report the explosion that rocked the Hudson Heights neighborhood.
Marge said Firgard’s hands, forearms, legs and hair were burned. Her skin was white in areas.
“She was running around yelling ‘help, help,'” Marge Taylor said. “So I laid her down. We then moved her away from the fire again, and then the ambulance arrived. She’s a very good friend.”
Neighbor and witness Paul Hillmer added, “I don’t know how she got out. She was in bad shape.”
By 4:15 p.m., Firgard was being transported to Covenant Medical Center in Waterloo by ambulance.
Hudson Fire Rescue arrived shortly after 4 p.m. The two-story structure was fully involved. Fire Chief Chad Schmidt put out a mutual aid call for water tankers. New Hartford and Reinbeck volunteer departments responded.
Within an hour, the entire house was destroyed. The only thing left standing is a two-stall attached garage, which was blown off its foundation.
The fire was intense, giving firefighters no chance to save the structure. Smoke could be seen more than 15 miles away.
“It was one of the larger ones (the department has fought recently),” Schmidt said.
Area residents said the blast reminded them of the natural gas pipeline explosion west of Hudson in 1982 that killed five people.
“I said, that’s no firecracker, that’s a gas explosion,” Lyle Taylor said. He saw the LP gas regulator burning in the home.
Schmidt wouldn’t confirm if the explosion and fire was caused by an LP leak, saying the Iowa State Fire Marshal’s office would investigate.
However, longtime family friend and neighbor Joe Alden said all the signs point to a gas leak. The retired plumber said he’s put in more than a thousand water heaters and, if there’s a leak, a person wouldn’t know unless they’re lying on the floor to check for one. LP is heavier than air and sinks, unlike natural gas that rises.
“Donna is not careless,” said Lisa Kuennen, a family friend. “Something had to go wrong. I know them so well.”
Neighbors said Firgard’s husband, Dick, was in Parkersburg with their son helping tornado victims at the time of the explosion.
Friends and neighbors said the Firgards moved to the acreage more than 30 years ago, adding that the home, which used to be a bed and breakfast, was a great source of pride for them.
The Firgards always had a home-improvement and landscape project in the works, friends said. But they still always found time to help others.
“They just got it the way they wanted it,” Hillmer said. “It turned into a lifelong project.”
“She’s a very good-hearted person — both of them,” Alden added. “They were constantly busy helping others.”
By 5:30 p.m., an excavator was digging debris out of the home’s basement so firefighters could extinguish remaining hot spots. No monetary loss estimate was available.
Flood waters from nearby Black Hawk Creek crossed Watters Road and initially complicated emergency crews’ ability to respond, those at the scene said.