Caper, WY – By Anthony Lane, Star-Tribune
A home northeast of Casper exploded Wednesday night, killing a 62-year-old woman and throwing her husband out of the structure just west of Cole Creek Road.
Residents living in the sparsely populated area surrounding the home at 8330 Sandpiper St. heard the explosion shortly before 8 p.m. Investigators believe the blast was fueled with leaking propane, though they say a final explanation for the fire could be weeks away.
Carol Hyma was apparently preparing dinner at the time of the explosion, according to Gary Hazen, Natrona County’s deputy coroner. Hazen said her remains were located at about midnight.
Neighbors arrived to find Jim Hyma trapped under debris outside the home. Although the 63-year-old was reportedly walking when emergency crews arrived, he was transported to Wyoming Medical Center, where he was in stable condition on Thursday afternoon.
A door leaning against a tree and a section of a green wooden rail were among the highest pieces of the structure still standing.
Ranes, while emphasizing that it was still too early to say what caused the fire, said investigators had found “discrepancies” in the piping for the home’s propane system.
If investigators determine that the blast was caused by a propane leak, it will not be the first home in Natrona County to be destroyed in this manner. An unoccupied home on Casper Mountain exploded in February as the result of such a leak.
Ranes said many Natrona County residents fail to obtain permits before doing work on propane systems, and that they also neglect to have the systems inspected.
Although permits and inspections are required, Ranes called the process of obtaining them “cheap insurance” to prevent a dangerous leak. But even with inspections often costing less than $50, he said, many residents do not take that step.
“You can see the result of it here,” Ranes said.
Emergency crews were called to the fire at about 7:50 p.m., arriving to find “massive devastation” and flames extending 20 feet into the air, according to fire inspector Dave Baker of the Natrona County Fire Protection District. He said county fire crews and others from Evansville and Casper were forced to take a “defensive stand” as fire consumed the home.
Baker said he had heard “hearsay” reports that residents of the home may have detected a gas odor inside prior to the explosion. Residents living up to two miles away reported hearing the blast, he said.
A propane gas leak caused the explosion of a home on Casper Mountain in February, and a similar leak could be responsible for Wednesday’s blast that killed a 62-year-old woman.
Don Ranes, a Natrona County building inspector, put the danger posed by gas leaked from propane systems in simple terms.
“It puddles,” Ranes said. “When it ignites, there is potential for a catastrophic explosion.”
Ranes encourages residents to have licensed plumbers perform work on propane or other gas systems. Permits should be acquired for planned projects, and systems should be inspected after any changes are made.
If you ever detect the odor of gas in your home or another building, get out of the structure, shut off the gas source if possible, and call for assistance, Ranes said.