Boy's plea may have saved family from Gurnee explosion that killed 1
Cool temperatures Friday afternoon persuaded Ludek Fohler and his family not to hang out on the backyard deck he'd finishing building last weekend. They went inside his house in unincorporated Gurnee.
"So my son wants to go outside," Fohler said. "I say, 'Let's stay here. It's cold outside.'"
His 2½-year-old son, Michael, became insistent. Outside.
"So, I said, let's go," Fohler said. "We would go for a walk and it would warm us up."
So Fohler, his mother, his son, his girlfriend and her young daughter walked to the nearby park. He looked over at his house when suddenly the earth quaked and a mushroom-like ball of flame spewed debris and insulation into the air.
The blast, reportedly felt 6 miles away, killed one man and destroyed the house at 36437 Streamwood Drive, next to Fohler's home, whose backyard -- and new deck -- faced the burning property.
"We walked on that sidewalk right in front of that house to go to the park," Fohler said, his face flashing disbelief. "We got there maybe two minutes before the explosion. Unbelievable."
His 16-year-old stepdaughter Tara wasn't so lucky. And yet, she was.
"She was upstairs in her room doing her homework when the ceiling collapsed on her," Fohler said. "All the ceilings on the second floor came into the bedrooms. She jumped up. She was crying her eyes out. She was trying to find our dog. She was in shock."
Tara escaped serious injury, even though a section of drywall fell on her legs. In the nearby master bedroom, the entire roof caved in.
"I was running to the house while calling 911," Fohler said. "I saw her (Tara) crying outside with the dog in her arms." Munja, an 11-year-old canine, had come to the U.S. from Serbia with the family, staying temporarily in a hotel because their home is uninhabitable.
Steve Carlson, a member of the Lake County Board, was at his house a half-mile away when the blast occurred.
"It sounded like a car had hit the front of the house," he reported.
Neighbor Annette O'Connell was walking her dogs two houses from Streamwood Drive when the explosion happened. She was apparently the first person to call 911.
"I told them, 'A house just blew up!'" she said. "They asked, 'Is the house on fire?' and I said yes. Then I started crying, 'Oh, my God! Oh, my God!' It's just very scary!"
Darleen Gano, whose home sits across the street at an angle from the destroyed property, reported that her son phoned her just after 5 p.m., concerned because he smelled gas in the house.
"Half an hour later, I get a call from his girlfriend, 'Mrs. Gano, I smell gas!'" Gano said. "Ten minutes later, boom!"
Gano said that "a lot of people said they smelled the gas and it was getting stronger."
The explosion, which damaged at least six other houses, remains under investigation by the state fire marshal.
The Gurnee Fire Department, assisted by several nearby fire departments, extinguished the blaze around 8:30 p.m. Fifteen minutes later, Gurnee Fire Department officials notified police that a body had been located in the debris.
Authorities said Sunday they believe they know the man's identity but will not release his name until they confirm it on Monday, when an autopsy is planned.
"We have a tentative person who we think it might be, but I won't know until tomorrow," Lake County Coroner Howard Cooper said Sunday.
Daily Herald staff writer Marie Wilson contributed to this report.