Homes remain evacuated near Rathdrum natural gas explosion

<p><p>Residents have yet to return to their homes the day after a Rathdrum house exploded following a gas leak Thursday afternoon. </p></p><p><p>Tyler Drechel, fire marshal at Northern Lakes Fire District, said two homes still had high enough natural gas levels to be considered unsafe Friday afternoon.</p></p><p><p>The fire district responded to a utility problem at about 10:10 a.m. Thursday at 6971 W. Christine St. A contractor for Ziply Fire bored through a gas line while trying to install fiber optic cable, Drechel said.</p></p><p><p>Avista Utilities responded and said they had the leak secured, so the fire department cleared the scene. The explosion occurred at about 12:45 p.m.</p></p><p><p>The homeowners and an Avista crewperson were inside the home when the garage exploded but only sustained minor injuries, Drechel said.</p></p><p><p>The male homeowner suffered burns on his arm and neck and was taken to a local hospital where he was treated and released, Drechel said. The female homeowner also went to the hospital to be checked out but was quickly released.</p></p><p><p>Neighbor Anthony Maldomado said he saw smoke when leaving his house shortly before the explosion. Then his wife heard several loud “kabooms.”</p></p><p><p>When Maldomado returned, “the house was burning like crazy.”</p></p><p><p>His family didn’t have to evacuate their home about a block away and said they’re thankful no one was seriously injured.</p></p><p><p>The home was a total loss, according to the fire department.</p></p><p><p>While gas leaks are common, an explosion of this magnitude is not, Drechel said. It was an “extraordinary scene,” he said.</p></p><p><p>“I’ve been in the fire service since 1996 and I’ve responded to multiple gas leaks over the years but none that turned into the situation we had yesterday,” Drechel said.</p></p><p><p>About 15 to 20 homes were evacuated after the explosion due to increase levels of natural gas. Most of the homes have since been cleared for residents to return, Drechel said. Two homes still showed elevated levels of gas Friday afternoon as diesel vacuums continued to suck the gas out of the ground.</p></p><p><p>Crews hoped all residents would be able to return home by Friday evening.</p></p>