Neighbors on the Southwest Side block where a house was flattened in a massive explosion Sunday morning say they smelled natural gas coming from the home Saturday night.
The house at 6656 S. Keating Ave. exploded around 6:45 a.m.
Three people -- a husband and wife who neighbors said were in their 40s or 50s, and a younger man -- were in the home at the time and are hospitalized Sunday morning, according to fire department officials. The husband and wife were badly burned and are both in critical condition. The extent of the third person's injuries was not known.
The explosion also damaged several of the surrounding homes.
“We were sleeping,” then there was a “very loud” explosion that broke glass in his home, said Jabar Wheatley, who lives in the house just to the north of 6656 S. Keating Ave.
“Everybody scrambled, thinking somebody was breaking in. We heard people next door screaming for help, then saw their roof on the ground. It was pretty traumatizing.”
The house was flattened, and a man and woman inside were taken in critical condition with second-degree burns to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, according to Fire Media Affairs. A third person who was in the home at the time took himself to an area hospital, Fire Media Afffairs Director Larry Langford said. His condition was “stable” Sunday morning, according to Fire Media Affairs.
Neighborhood resident Dave Conner came outside when he heard the explosion, and the house was already leveled. There was a smoldering fire that burned for about five minutes but then the wind picked up and the smoldering fire became an inferno, he said. That fire then spread to another house.
The house directly south of the flattened home had holes in the roof and blown-out windows, as did the building just north of it. The homes on either side of the home where the fire occurred are uninhabitable, according to Langford, who noted that the homes are brick and probably could be repaired.
The American Red Cross of Greater Chicago had responders on the scene Sunday morning, spokesman Gentry Lassiter said. He said three families had been affected by the explosion and fire and the Red Cross responders were assessing what services these families would need, which could include food and shelter.
Neighbors said they smelled gas last night, and this morning the homeowner was apparently in the basement working on something when the explosion occurred.
He came out running out to the alley, badly burned, neighbors said. He collapsed at the intersection of Keating and Marquette, and neighbors called 911. “He was all burned up,” said neighbor Rudy Venegas.
Venegas said he kicked in the door of the home just to the south of the 6659 Keating building and brought the elderly woman who lives there outside. That woman, who is 80 years old, refused medical atttention, Langford said. Wheatley said he and his family were uninjured, as well.
No one knew Sunday morning how the woman got out of the home, but Langford said fire crews made no rescues -- all three residents were out by the time firefighters got to the scene.
Neighbors said the husband and wife who live at 6656 S. Keating Ave. are nice people, who had three dogs.
An hour after the explosion and fire, the smell of natural gas still lingered for blocks around the home. Crews from Peoples Gas were seen going door to door at least a block away.
The fire was struck out and the scene secured by about 7:35 a.m., but fire and police personnel remained at the scene for at least two hours after the fire.