June 21--DECATUR -- Melanie Bracy knows how lucky she is.
The 32-year old Richland Community College nursing student was on her couch studying when the neighboring house exploded, knocking in the north wall of the house she'd been living in for two weeks.
"I went out to the back door, and it was completely engulfed in flames," she said.
Bracy was able to get out through the front door, grabbing her phone and dog along the way. Once outside, passing motorist had stopped and offered assistance.
"I don't know how I got away with this," Bracy said, referring to a few small cuts on her bare feet while she sat on a neighbor's front porch with debris in her hair. Bracy said she had smelled gas that morning.
Emergency crews were still clearing debris from the street Friday evening after an explosion occurred earlier at 2185 N. Monroe St. Crews were dispatched to the scene shortly after 1 p.m. Friday to find thick smoke coming from the home and the front of the house blown into the street where a door and window frame lay.
Insulation was strewn more than 50 yards into the adjacent Monroe Park. A police official confirmed the explosion occurred due to a natural gas leak, with fire still shooting out of a gas main for about 30 minutes until it was shut off by Ameren Illinois shortly after 2 p.m.
One minor injury was reported.
Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Abbott said gas fires are hard to fight until it is turned off and the source is identified.
"We're going to have to take the house down," Abbott said.
While officials said an investigation was ongoing, Abbott said gas explosions sometimes occur at vacant homes when copper thieves strip the pipes. The street will remain closed until the house is torn down.
Neighbors say the home had been vacant for several years after the previous owners moved away and were unable to sell it. A real estate agent sign still stood in front of the burning wreckage as firefighters worked in the heat Friday afternoon to put out the last of the flames.
Surrounding houses also showed damage, with the neighboring home on the south side having parts of its wall blown out as well as shattered windows and burned siding. Mark Younker, the owner of the neighboring property at 2181 N. Monroe, was there to examine the property and admitted it was likely beyond repair.
Clementine Rueff was home at 2193 N. Monroe St., when the house two doors south exploded.
"I thought somebody bombed us, it was that bad," Rueff said from her porch, while Ameren officials checked that her gas lines were safe.
A passer-by banged on her door and took her across the street until officials told her it was safe to return. The blast could be felt around the area, though initial reactions from neighbors were varied on what caused the incident.
"My entire house shook, and I thought maybe my A/C had fell out the building," said Edna Horges, who lives in the 2000 block of North Main Street. Horges said she found out it was an explosion when her daughter, who felt the explosion while at Decatur Memorial Hospital, called shortly after the incident.
Other neighbors compared the shaking of their properties to being in the middle of an earthquake to a vehicle crashing into the side of their homes.
Copyright 2014 - Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.