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CHAMPAIGN — A rural Champaign man was burned Sunday afternoon, apparently when he tried to light the pilot light on his furnace, causing an explosion that led to his house catching fire.

Cornbelt Fire Department Chief John Koller said firefighters from several area fire departments were called to the 5000 block of Lindsey Road, north of Interstate 74 and west of I-57, at 4:14 p.m.

Champaign County sheriff’s patrol Sgt. J.R. Meeker said authorities received at least two calls to 911, one from the resident who said his furnace exploded after he lit the pilot light, and another from a neighbor reporting an explosion so loud that it shook her house.

"We could see a large column of smoke," when trucks left Mahomet, Koller said, about 5 miles away.

"The front part of the house and one side were blown off and the rest of it was engulfed in flames," Koller said.

As firefighters worked to get the fire under control, passersby and neighbors had the injured resident, the sole occupant of the home, outside.

"They had him in a ditch across the street providing as much care as they could. Our ambulance crew (from Mahomet) was able to start care of him as quick as they could."

The injured man was taken by AirLife helicopter to the burn unit of Springfield’s Memorial Medical Center, Koller confirmed. He did not have the man's name or the extent of his injuries.

Koller asked for the assistance of the State Fire Marshal's Office to find the cause of the fire. He had also heard the information about the attempt to light the pilot light but didn't want to speculate on a cause. The house had no basement.

The ranch home was "a total loss," Koller said, adding that other outbuildings on the property were not affected by the fire. 

"We had a backhoe come out to pull it down to the ground," he said of what was left of the structure. 

Koller said firefighters had the blaze under control in about 30 minutes but remained at the house for three hours putting out hot spots. Koller estimated about a dozen area fire departments assisted Cornbelt, many of them by hauling water to the neighborhood, which is not served by fire hydrants

Sheriff's deputies blocked Lindsey Road to through traffic, Meeker said.

No firefighters were hurt putting out the fire.

"We're hopeful for the patient. Everybody did a really good job," Koller said.


Mary Schenk is a reporter covering police, courts and breaking news at The News-Gazette. Her email is, and you can follow her on Twitter (@schenk).