Oklahoma Natural Gas workers were investigating a leak for about an hour on Jan. 3 before a massive explosion destroyed a home with a blast heard for miles.
Two workers looking for a leak in a medium-pressure line feeding residences near SW 92 and S Villa were right outside the home before it exploded, and witnesses said the force blew them away from where they'd been working.
Right after the blast, the workers ran around the home that was then on fire, pulling its owner, Kate Purcell, 61, from the rear of the house.
“That they weren't hurt is remarkable,” neighbor James Bowman said.
Cherokee Ballard, spokesman for ONG, said workers received a call about a gas leak about 3:20 p.m. that day and arrived before 4 p.m. The explosion happened shortly before 5 p.m. Asked why the homes in the area weren't evacuated while ONG workers were looking for the leak, she said that was under investigation.
An Oklahoma City Fire Department official said telecommunications contractors working in the area cut the line.
Bowman said the contractors were boring holes near his neighbor's home for the better part of the day. He noticed the smell of gas shortly after 3 p.m. but saw ONG workers were outside when he left for a hair appointment about 4 p.m.
“There was a strong odor of natural gas, but I wasn't concerned because they were here,” Bowman said.
While he was getting his hair cut about a mile away, he heard a loud boom.
“I had a good idea what it was right away,” he said.
While Bowman was gone, his daughter remained in the home. She rushed out to see how the workers were.
Shortly after, the workers rushed around the back of the house to pull out Purcell.
Deputy Fire Chief Marc Woodard said the sight was unlike any he's responded to.
“I've worked for the department for 28 years, and this is the first one that I've seen completely destroy a home like that,” he said.
State Corporation Commission investigators were on the scene shortly after the explosion, spokesman Matt Skinner said. The explosion met criteria to trigger both a state and a federal investigation. The state will investigate the incident for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a division of the U.S. Transportation Department.
Skinner couldn't comment on specifics of the investigation.
“There are pipeline safety rules and regulations, and we're making sure those rules are followed,” he said.
Justin Wallace, who lives about a block away from Purcell and Bowman, said he smelled gas before the explosion. He said it got worse right before the blast, and he knew immediately what caused the detonation that shook things off the walls where he was.
“I just wonder why no one was evacuated before,” he said. “This is going to be stuck in our minds for a long time.
Kate Purcell's daughter, Tammy Jeck, said her mother has been staying at a local hotel. Purcell told her she smelled the gas before the blast and had asked workers outside if she needed to evacuate while she was getting her mail. Shortly after, the house exploded.
About 14 people were evacuated from the area after the explosion, and Purcell's home is a total loss. No one was seriously injured.
Several surrounding houses were severely damaged, and the home where the explosion occurred is a pile of burned lumber and scorched metal. The garage where the car was parked is gone, but a charred-out car still sits between where the walls were.
The metal garage door was thrown across the street during the explosion, and doors and windows were blown out of a nearby home. Other nearby homes have boarded-up windows, and contractors are busy working on roofs, damaged siding and unseen structural damage in at least six nearby homes.