Countryside Fire Protection District crews thought they were headed to a typical house blaze after they were called to Long Grove's exclusive Royal Melbourne subdivision late Friday.
But a little more than a minute into the response, Fire Chief Jeff Steingart said, emergency dispatchers relayed that the home had exploded.
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The massive blast, which obliterated the dwelling, was heard many miles away. Firefighters quickly prepared for the worst.
"We very much anticipated finding multiple victims and thankfully didn't," Steingart said.
Steingart said a woman who lives in the decimated home escaped just before it blew up on the 4700 block of Trenton Court near Wellington Drive. The Lake County sheriff's office said while a formal investigation has started, a preliminary finding shows the explosion may have been caused by a natural gas leak.
Lake County sheriff's Sgt. Erwin Drummond said the woman suffered minor injuries to the back of her legs but declined medical treatment. She was reported to be staying with neighbors. Three occupants in a home next door that sustained damage were not hurt, he said.
Dozens of other homes in the area suffered less extensive damage.
Steingart, standing Saturday morning near the rubble bordering the Royal Melbourne golf course's 14th hole, said firefighters responded about 10:40 p.m. Friday, and it took about an hour for firefighters to control the flaming wreckage. The job wasn't easy.
"We did have open gas lines burning freely," he said.
North Shore Gas eventually shut off the lines, authorities said. Steingart said North Shore crews already were in the area before the explosion handling a natural-gas odor complaint.
Roughly 75 firefighters from Countryside and other departments controlled the blaze. Steingart said tankers had to bring 90,000 gallons of water because of a limited hydrant system at Royal Melbourne.
Fire officials who performed a widespread assessment found about 50 homes within a half mile of the blast hit with varying levels of damage, with insulation and shingles remaining on several Royal Melbourne lawns Saturday. A dollar total for the loss has yet to be calculated.
Long Grove resident Karen Grandt, who lives on Forest Edge Lane about a quarter-mile from the explosion site, said her entire house shook, pictures came off the wall, items tumbled from kitchen cabinets and glass broke.
Carol Haze, the caregiver for the resident living next door to Grandt, said the explosion "took down ladders from the wall in the garage. It blew out two patio doors on the back of the house. It blew out the kitchen window over the sink. It rocked everything, pictures, pots, pans. The kitchen is a bona fide disaster."
Steingart said telephones at 911 centers well beyond Long Grove were "ringing off the hook" with explosion reports as the blast shook homes as far away as Glencoe and Rolling Meadows.
Many people ran outside to see what had happened. A homeowner more than 7 miles away in Wheeling said his house shook so violently that a picture fell off a shelf.
Bystander Mike Kerlin, one of several people who converged on the scene in the wee hours to find the source of the boom, said "We felt this all the way in Palatine. It shook our entire house. It felt like an earthquake."
David Bendoff, a Long Grove resident who lives within a mile of the explosion, went outside to investigate after hearing the boom. "Everybody was looking up at their roofs with their flashlights," he said.
When he called 911 and learned there had been a natural gas explosion, he went to investigate with his daughter Brittany. "When we first got here, there were flames shooting up … about a hundred feet in the air," he said.
In addition to the firefighters sent to Royal Melbourne, Lake County sheriff's deputies worked to immediately evacuate homes near the explosion area and accounted for all residents, Sgt. Gianni Giamberduca said Saturday.
Giamberduca said dozens of sheriff's office employees are investigating the blast. He said the office is working in collaboration with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Illinois state fire marshal's office and several local fire departments.
Officials credited volunteers including the South Lake County Regional Community Emergency Response Team and sheriff's reserve deputies for helping to secure the neighborhood and handling other duties.
Dating to the early 1990s, Royal Melbourne is a gated community with homes for sale in the $1 million range near Routes 22 and 83. Many of the houses are around the 18-hole golf course codesigned by professional golfer Greg Norman.
Explosion: People reported feeling the blast as far away as Rolling Meadows, Glencoe