Experts: Analysis of Indiana blast could take time

Associated Press Modified: November 14, 2012 at 4:18 pm •  Published: November 14, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Investigators looking for the cause of a deadly Indianapolis house explosion got more support for their theory that natural gas was a factor Wednesday when an attorney for the owner of a home at the core of the blast said his client's 12-year-old daughter had smelled a strange odor off and on for weeks.

Still, finding the actual cause could take time as investigators search through homes that have been battered or obliterated for any clues about faulty appliances and gas leaks. It's possible they may never be able to pinpoint the cause.

"Extensive gas explosions are not easy to put back together," forensics consultant Jay A.Siegel said. "Finding the pieces and putting them back together is a giant puzzle."

Randall Cable, an attorney for homeowner Monserrate Shirley, said Wednesday that the woman's daughter had complained of an odor outdoors and in the garage area for several weeks before Saturday's blast that leveled two homes and left dozens more uninhabitable. Two people were killed.

"Once they went inside, they didn't smell it," Cable said. The odor wasn't strong enough to concern the adults, so they didn't report it, he said.

Shirley's boyfriend, Mark Leonard, replaced the home's thermostat about two or three weeks ago after the couple discovered the furnace wasn't working.

Investigators haven't said from which house they think the explosion originated. They said late Tuesday that they are looking at gas appliances in the homes that were consumed at the epicenter of the fiery blast, which flattened the Shirley home and the house next door where two people died.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the utility that provides gas service to the neighborhood have said they found no leaks in the gas main or pipes leading into the homes.

Real estate records show the Shirley home had a gas furnace and water heater.

But determining whether either of those caused the explosion is likely to be a long process because of the massive amount of damage.

John J. Lentini, a fire investigation expert who wrote the book "Scientific Protocol for Fire Investigation," said investigators will have to trace gas lines, valves and appliances inside homes where little more than charred boards and debris remains.

"You have to check the gas lines, and they tend to be gone," Lentini said. "You're probably not going to have much more than the meter."

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