Home demolished after explosion
CHAMPAIGN — Eva Mroz wasn't exactly sure what she was feeling Thursday morning as she watched a house she owned in north Champaign being demolished.
"It's beyond words that something like this could happen. I was just there two days earlier. It's scary," said the owner of the home at 501 1/2 W. Beardsley Ave., C.
An explosion at the single story, unoccupied home shortly after 10 a.m. Tuesday injured an Ameren employee who was there checking out the strong gas smell reported by a neighbor. It also damaged the structure so severely that city officials quickly declared it needed to be torn down.
Aside from her relief that the worker wasn't hurt any worse than he was, Mroz was grateful that the neighbors and their homes escaped serious harm.
"I just thank God that there was no significant damage to the neighboring properties," said Mroz, who has owned the house about 3 1/2 years.
Champaign police are looking into the cause of the explosion. Since there was no fire, the fire department referred the case to police for investigation.
"We don't know that a crime was committed but we're treating it as such until we prove or disprove what happened," Detective Joe Johnston said Wednesday afternoon.
He was trying to make arrangements to interview the injured worker, who he said was supposed to have been released from the burn unit of Springfield Memorial Medical Center Wednesday. A Champaign public works employee helped the man until paramedics arrived.
Mroz said she was told the Ameren worker, who was in the back yard when the explosion occurred, sustained burns to his face and hands.
Mroz said the son of a neighbor was taking out the trash Tuesday morning when he smelled the gas and reported it.
"I've been telling everybody to use this as a reminder to check your heating system and your stove," she said.
Mroz said she'd had the house listed for sale but was in the process of updating the inside to get it ready for possible rental. It had been vacant 11 months.
"I was doing everything myself. I had just ordered windows and the company was kind enough when they learned of the incident to refund my money despite the fact that they had made the windows," she said.
Mroz said she checked the property at least once a week and when she was there last on Sunday morning, "everything appeared to be in order."
Only the furnace and stove ran on gas, she said. The stove was intact so she suspected the problem originated elsewhere. She was not allowed back into the home because of the danger.
"The house was no longer on its foundation. It's like it slid. All the windows just popped out. One wall was torn away from the building. As a lay person, it looks like it originated in the basement," she said.
Employees of Miller Enterprises were doing the destruction Thursday. Mroz said they were taking extra precautions because the neighbors' houses are about 10 feet in either direction from hers.
Although she had the property insured, Mroz said she has no intention of rebuilding. Fire officials said it was valued at $44,000.
"There's so many empty properties in this neighborhood, it just seems silly," she said.