ANGELINA COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - A report from the State Fire Marshal's Office showed that an explosion at a home in Zavalla that claimed the life of an 82-year-old man and seriously injured his wife was caused by a propane leak that was likely ignited by electrical components in the refrigerator in the kitchen.
East Texas News obtained a copy of the State Fire Marshal's Office report Friday, which also stated that the explosion was an accident.
The explosion occurred at a home in the 200 block of Pleasant Drive in the early morning hours of Jan. 17.
After the explosion, Lyle Raymond West, 82, was flown to Parkland Hospital in Dallas, and Elaine Reinhardt West, 83, was taken to a hospital in Lufkin after the explosion. Lyle West died as a result of the injuries he suffered in the explosion on Jan. 20, and his wife has since been released from the hospital and has been undergoing rehab.
During the investigation by Heath Mahlmann, a deputy state fire marshal, he discovered that the only propane gas appliance was in the home's fireplace, which was located in the northwest corner of the living room. From the evidence at the scene, he determined that the flexible steel supply line to the fireplace had not been connected to the fireplace when the explosion occurred, the report stated.
Mahlmann's report also stated that there was no shut-off valve on the fireplace, and that the only shut-off valve to the gas supply was located on the propane tank itself.
"During the examination and reconstruction of the kitchen refrigerator, damage indicated that the refrigerator had been affected from the inside out by the explosion," the report stated. "The case of the refrigerator had been peeled away and bulged outward by the blast. The majority of the hard foam insulation that lined the interior of the refrigerator case had been shattered and broken away from the case, then scattered east and west of the structure beyond the burned debris area, remaining mostly unburned."
In addition, the report said the refrigerator's right door was thrown in the opposite direction from the rest of the appliance.
"Damage to the right side door indicated that it hit the front door to the residence when the blast occurred," the report stated.
Lyle West was found under burning debris just south of the refrigerator, the report stated.
Mahlmann's report stated that the explosion was likely triggered by electrical components that ignited the propane that had leaked into the Wests' home.
"The determination regarding causation is based on a methodical search of the area, observation of fire travel and debris location, evidence observed at the scene, and statements of eyewitnesses," the report stated. "Based on this information, it is my opinion that the cause of this explosion is classified as accidental."
Dwight Lyons with Lyons LP Gas did not want to comment on this specific incident, but he did say it was tragic and hopes others will inspect their equipment in their homes.
"People need to check behind the appliances to make sure there is not a pin hole or something like that that might have got in the gas line over a period of years," Lyons said. "The smell of gas is mostly related to the smell of a rotten egg. If you smell it, then go out and turn off the valve and call 911 or a gas professional."
Witnesses at the scene of the explosion said it looked more like a tornado had touched down and hit the home on Pleasant Drive. According to Zavalla Fire Chief Chris Wade, firefighters were called out to a home in the 200 block of Pleasure Drive right around 6 a.m. on Jan. 17. Several 911 calls referenced what sounded like a propane explosion.
The explosion was even heard up to five miles away inside the Zavalla city limits.