March 9, 2011
Firefighters found a body Wednesday afternoon in the rubble of a southeast Colorado Springs house that exploded and burst into flames just before midnight Tuesday.
The search for victims could not begin until late afternoon because of hot spots in the debris of the tri-level house in the 3300 block of Knotwood Drive, Fire Department spokeswoman Sunny Smaldino said. The search was suspended as darkness fell and will resume Thursday morning.
According to fire officials, a 74-year-old woman and her 51-year-old son lived in the home.
The El Paso County Assessor’s Office lists the owner of the house as Edna Ainbinder.
The body was found in the upstairs “living quarters,” and investigators have yet to identify the remains in any way. They also don’t know how many people might have been caught in the explosion.
The mother, who was retired, and son lived there for more than 20 years, neighbors said, often keeping to themselves but offering a smile and quick conversation whenever outside with their two dogs, which were chows.
Searchers discovered the remains of two dogs in a front bedroom. The dogs’ bodies were sent to the El Paso County Coroner’s Office for any clues to the fire’s cause.
“They were real quiet people,” said Ron Sanders Jr., who lived next door to the family and talked to the son briefly on Tuesday afternoon while he let his dogs outside. “They’re always joyful… he was real cheerful.”
His father, Ron Sanders Sr., said the mother’s and son’s vehicles were parked at the house as firefighters fought the blaze.
“You couldn’t tell where the front of the house was — where the front door was,” said Sanders Sr. “We’re just concerned about our neighbors.
“It looked like something out of a movie. I can’t believe this is happening.”
The cause of the blaze has not been determined.
The house blew up at 11:54 p.m. Tuesday, with firefighters arriving five minutes after the explosion to find flames reaching nearby trees, singeing branches and threatening nearby houses.
Neighbors a few blocks away said the explosion shook their houses, sending many running outside to see smoke and flames erupting. The house is west of the intersection of Chelton Road and Academy Boulevard, in the Pikes Peak Park neighborhood.
Eddie Trujillo, who lives with his wife next door to the house that exploded, said he heard a loud “boom” and felt the windows shake.
On the east side of the house, Sanders Jr. said he and his parents were sleeping when they heard the explosion.
“We grabbed hoses and we tried the best we could,” Sanders Jr. said. “We were trying to control the flames so that way they didn’t catch the house” on fire.
Firefighters knocked down the bulk of the blaze within 19 minutes of arriving at the house, Smaldino said, though flames continued to shoot from the smoldering ashes hours after the explosion. Late Wednesday afternoon smoke still rose from the debris.
“On the way in crews could see it from about a half a mile away,” Smaldino said. “It was a pretty intense fire, intense heat.”
The Sanders’ residence was largely spared from any damage in the blaze. Trujillo’s house had “superficial” fire damage to its east wall, Smaldino said. The houses were habitable, though both families stayed the night with nearby friends and family.
A few support beams were all that remained on top of beige bricks that comprised the lower part of the house. A portion of a wall was in the front yard and bits of the home’s interior were strewn across the lawn.
Glass from the house rested on the asphalt of Knotwood Drive, beneath a ladder truck that poured water from the air onto the ashes of the smoldering house.
“I didn’t have to use a map — I followed the fire,” said Colorado Springs police Sgt. Dave Henrichson. “It looked like there was nothing left.”
Four engines, two trucks and 10 more support apparatus responded to the blaze, Smaldino said.
Colorado Springs Utilities spokesman Dave Grossman said workers ran tests for natural gas early Wednesday morning but found none in the area around the home.
“If the explosion were due to natural gas, chances are that we would detect some sort of lingering natural gas outside the residence,” Grossman said.
Smaldino said Utilities workers would not be allowed to test the interior of the house until after investigators had combed through the rubble.
Gazette reporters Matt Steiner and Lance Benzel contributed to this report.