Chunks of drywall covered a “Home Sweet Home” welcome mat on the front porch of a home in Signal Hill on Friday morning. The top half of a solid wood front door and a blown out window lay near it on the path to the front porch.
The two-story house at 2100 Ohio Ave. was gutted after a natural gas explosion Thursday night: Every window and door in the home was blown out. By the morning, workers had boarded them all up and red-tagged the home, placing caution tape around the perimeter. The metal garage door laid crumpled on the side of the driveway and pieces of glass littered the fake grass near the sidewalk.
Kumar Barot, the owner of the home, was still trying to process what happened as he spoke to workers from Long Beach’s gas department and Signal Hill Petroleum on the sidewalk outside the house on Friday.
Just before 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Barot said he and his son Jay were heading home from a mechanic. His wife Ingrid and their 36-year-old son Jolin were home at the time; Ingrid was upstairs and Jolin was downstairs.
Barot said his wife told him that when the explosion first rocked the home, she considered jumping off the balcony to escape but decided to instead run out the front door.
The home was crumbling inside and the staircase started caving in as she ran down it, Barot said. Meanwhile, Jolin ran out the door away from fire as the ceiling began falling on his head. He lost consciousness briefly once he was out of the home.
“Luckily they both got out safely,” Barot said.
Paramedics took both of them to a hospital with minor injuries: Jolin suffered small burns on his head and face and cuts on his hands and face from the broken glass. Ingrid suffered an ankle injury and cuts as well.
“Right now, they look physically OK, but they have a lot of psychological trauma and anxiety,” he said sadly.
Officials are still investigating what exactly happened, but a neighbor two houses down from the home recalled hearing and feeling the explosion.
“It felt like someone crashed into our own house,” the neighbor, Valerie Caldin, said. She and her husband ran outside, saw smoke billowing out and called 911.
Barot described the explosion “like a bomb style.” When firefighters got there, the garage was ablaze, which they quickly put out.
Barot said they suspect that the gas was accumulating somehow under the stairs, thinking that is why it collapsed. The family had been smelling something like gas or oil for months before and called Signal Hill Petroleum and the gas department in Long Beach to investigate. They both came out two weeks ago and couldn’t find the source of the problem. The home sits across from a large lot with multiple oil derricks.
Gas department workers checked the home’s gas line and verified it didn’t have any leaks then, said Bob Dowell, the director of the Long Beach Energy Resources Department, which oversees the gas services bureau.
“It was even tested last night after the explosion and it still didn’t have any leaks,” he said.
Dowell said he didn’t immediately know if his department had gotten any other complaints of smells in the area recently. The city’s natural gas safety tip website says if you smell a strong odor of gas, which is similar to rotten eggs, to immediately leave the area and call 911 or the city at 562-570-2140.
Workers from Signal Hill Petroleum were taking samples of the naturally occurring gas under the street on East 21st Street to see if there is a problem outside the home, said Dave Slater, who is the executive vice president of the company. He was with the workers there Friday morning.
“We’re doing a lot of testing out of an abundance of caution,” Slater said.
Signal Hill is home to many active oil and gas reservoirs, which the company and city regularly test and seal, Slater said. He said that so far, the company hasn’t found anything “out of the ordinary” around the home.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department is leading the overall investigation and none of the parties investigating could estimate how long it would take to figure out the cause of the explosion and fire. Dowell said he couldn’t recall anything like this happening in Long Beach or Signal Hill in recent years.
Meanwhile, the family is still trying to understand and thankful they all survived. The inside of the home looks like it was gutted, said Amanda Hua, who was with her fiance Jay Barot Friday morning.
“We got the call saying, ‘the house exploded,’ and you can’t even imagine that in your head,” Hua said. “We’re just lucky they’re alive.”
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