Investigators say fire pit built over gas line led to fire, explosion at west side Indianapolis home


INDIANAPOLIS — At least six people were hurt Friday after a house fire and explosion on the west side.

Emergency response teams were sent to the 500 block of Rybolt Avenue off of West Michigan Street around 8:15 a.m. for a reported fire.

Wayne Township fire officials say five civilians and one firefighter were injured. Four of the civilians were taken to the hospital in serious condition. The fifth person refused to be taken to the hospital.

Rodney VanCleave and his wife, Robin, both heard the blast as it happened.

“We heard the explosion which jumped us up both out the bed,” said Rodney. “I immediately looked out. The house was smoking and engulfed in flames immediately.”

What the VanCleave’s heard was enough to get them out of bed, but it’s what Robin saw when she looked out her window that had her running towards the fire.

“When I heard the boom, he said flames, so I automatically took off and run out the backdoor,” said Robin. “I come around the corner and heard [my neighbor] screaming.”

Robin said the explosion blew her neighbor out of their house and all four walls had been knocked to the ground.

“The back of the house was laying on her back so I knocked all that off of her and told her to just jump on my back and let me carry her out because it was nothing but glass and fire,” said Robin. “So I put her on my back and carried her across the street to the porch over there.”

Investigators said it appeared the construction of an in-ground fire pit led to the fire and explosion. The fire pit was built this week directly above the natural gas service line to the home; excavation of the site showed the service line had been damaged.

“It was like loud – loudest thing I’ve ever heard. I didn’t know what it was I thought maybe it was like a tree fell or something,” said neighbor Noah Merrill. “We were just making sure that everybody was okay and all the animals were out.”

“It was in flames… it was in flames. I mean it was just – I’m surprised anybody made it out alive,” said Wanda Harris who lives a few doors down.

Wayne Township fire reminds residents – if you smell natural gas (a rotten egg or sulfur smell), you should:

  • Not turn on any lights or use the phone
  • Leave the home/building immediately. Use a phone away from the building to call 911 or Citizens at 317-927-3311.

The fire department and Citizens Energy said residents and businesses must call 811 at least two full days before any kind of digging or earth-moving activity. Indiana 811 will visit the home or business to mark underground utility lines.

No criminal charges have been filed.

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