Refrigerator blamed for FD house explosion

A refrigerator was the most likely ignition source for a house explosion that happened exactly two weeks ago in Fort Dodge.

Fort Dodge Fire Chief Steve Hergenreter said Tuesday the investigation into what caused the explosion at 3015 Ninth Ave. S. has led fire officials to believe the refrigerator ignited gas that had seeped into the house.

“The cause that we came up with, the most probable cause, is a gas leak where the gas migrated into the house through the soil,” Hergenreter said. “And the most likely ignition source was a refrigerator in the area of where the gas line and meter came into the house.”

Investigators believe the compressor turning on is what sparked the fire, which caused the house to erupt into flames, collapsing part of it.

Four people and a family dog were inside the house when the explosion happened.

Two suffered minor injuries, while the other two weren’t hurt.

The dog suffered burns in the explosion.

Hergenreter said fire investigators aren’t able to determine what caused the gas leak to occur in the first place, and said they’ll have to wait until warmer weather to investigate.

“We won’t know that exactly until the ground thaws and the soil is, so the gas line that runs from the street to the house is fully excavated,” he said. “It’s all frozen in the ground. That can’t be 100 percent determined until the ground in that area is excavated.”

It’s possible the initial leak may have started after city public works crews struck a gas line while digging into the ground in front of the house to repair a broken water main.

“They said they bent the gas main a little bit,” Brent Sandholm, the city’s water utility operations manager, said at the time of the explosion. “Nobody smelled gas or anything.”

Hergenreter said it’s difficult to say if the gas leak could be smelled inside the home.

While natural gas itself does not have an odor, he said gas companies will put an oderant, mercaptan, into the gas so it does have a scent.

“But if the gas is leaking underground and migrating into the building, the soil can filter out the mercaptan and lose its odor,” Hergenreter said. “That can be a factor in a gas leak that people in a building may not be aware of.”

While investigators can’t confirm that happened two weeks ago, Hergenreter said it’s believed that was a circumstance of this explosion.

The blast was reported at 12:50 p.m. on Feb. 14.

The house is a rental property. It is owned by Douglas E. Weimer, of Fort Dodge, according to online records of the Webster County assessor’s office. Those records indicate that it was built in 1920.