Explosion and Fire in Birch Street Townhomes Ruled an Accident

Updated March 25 at 9:44 a.m. with information from J.U.L.I.E.’s Web site

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- The office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal has determined that the home explosion that occurred on February 22 at 13 Bailey Street in Park Forest was the ‘result of accidental causation.’

The report does not say who was at fault in the accident that blew up 13 Bailey and burned the other half of the duplex at 15 Bailey to the ground.

No one was seriously injured in the blast that shook many homes in the Birch Street cooperatives and Ash Street co-ops to the north.

In a story that has almost become legend in Park Forest and beyond, two AT&T employees, Ron Shockley, 37, and his partner Garreth Carpenter, 35, rescued resident Yolanda Collins from the second floor of her cooperative unit after outside walls and a portion of her roof had been blown away, her residence engulfed in flames moments after Ms. Collins was carried down a ladder to safety.

According to State Fire Marshals office spokesman Louis Pukelis, the State Fire Marshal does not determine culpability if findings indicate an event was an accident.

"We just determine cause and origin," Pukelis said. "We don’t make judgment on what or whom may have caused the explosion, in this case.  That will possibly be determined by the insurance companies, or perhaps if there is litigation."

Pukelis said the explosion was not incendiary or arson.

"Who might be at fault is still yet to be determined. This is not the office that will determine that."

The report says while excavating to install new water main lines on Bailey Street, Trion Construction Utility Contractors struck "two underground natural gas supply lines with the bucket of the excavator approximately 4′ below grade level."

At issue is the markings placed by J.U.L.I.E. contractors indicating the position of the gas lines. According to J.U.L.I.E.’s Web site, contractors must take into consideration a "tolerance zone":

Your excavation project must begin within 14 days of your contact with JULIE.  When digging be sure to always do so around the marks – not on top of them.  Some utility lines may be buried at a shallow depth and an unintended shovel thrust can bring you right back to square one – facing possible injury, service outages and repair costs.

If utility markings exist near where you plan to dig, you must also understand the tolerance zone. This area is the approximate location of a underground utility facility defined by a strip of land at least 3 feet wide, but not wider than the underground utility facility plus 1 1/2 feet on either side of such facility based upon the markings made by the owner or operator of the facility. 

The report says the natural gas supply lines were visibly damaged, and continues:

The two underground natural gas supply lines were attached to the main supply line by ‘T’ couplers; both supply lines extended from the north side of the trench to the south of the trench. The natural gas supply lines extended perpendicular from the main supply line to the south underneath Bailey Street to individual natural gas meters located in the basements of unit 15 and 13 Bailey Street.

As a result of the natural gas explosion extensive fire damage was sustained to the town home at 15 Bailey Street. The damage sustained is consistent fire damage and structure collapse of the roof resulting from an explosive ignition of natural gas vapors present within 13 Bailey Street.

The report says that at approximately 11:15 a.m., Ms. Yolanda Collins "began to notice an odor similar to that of asphalt, diesel fumes and natural gas permeating her bedroom. Ms. Collins stated she assumed the odors were consistent with the ongoing construction in front of her residence."

Ms. Collins further stated she was not "initially concerned about the various odors as her C02 detector had not activated alerting her to a potential problem."

Ms. Collins stated she was "never notified by construction workers that they had damaged the gas supply line to her residence or that there was a possibility of a potential gas leak," the report says.

At approximately 11:49 a.m., Ms. Collins said she received a text message from a family member. Upon returning to her bedroom, she noticed construction had stopped. She decided to finish the last five minutes of a Life Time movie when she heard the furnace cycle.

This was quickly followed by a "sudden whooshing sound," and "debris from the bedroom ceiling" began to fall on her.

She crawled toward the light

The report says that as debris began to settle, Collins could see light coming through a large hole in the exterior wall of her residence where her bedroom closet had been. She immediately began to crawl towards the opening to escape the heat and smoke that had begun to encompass the bedroom.

As she got to the opening, she realized the smoke and heat were coming from "underneath the bedroom floor," the report continues. "She attempted to jump out of the hole in the wall, but was forced back by the flames that had engulfed the first floor of the residence."

She began screaming for help. It was at this point that AT&T employees, Ron Shockley and Garreth Carpenter responded, carrying her down "seconds before the second floor collapsed into the basement."

The report indicates that the case has been administratively closed.