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Homeowner: Faulty furnace may have caused Ind. blast

8:21 AM, Nov 13, 2012   |    comments
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The ex-husband of the woman whose house is thought to be at the center of Saturday's massive explosion said he suspects a furnace problem led to the blast.

Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs says it's going to be quite some time before investigators release a cause of the explosion that killed two people and damaged 80 homes.

John Shirley, whose ex-wife Monserrate Shirley lives at the home with their 12-year-old-daughter, said he got a text from his daughter about 11/2 weeks ago telling him the heat was out and they were spending the night elsewhere.

"I bet you anything that's why it happened," he said.

His daughter later told him the heat was back on, but he didn't know whether repair work had occurred, he said.

John Shirley said his daughter was at a friend's house at the time of the explosion, he said. Monserrate Shirley and her boyfriend were at a casino and the family cat was being boarded, he said

Riggs said investigators continue to treat the blast area as a crime scene, and they're looking through the debris for clues.

Riggs said it appears so far that natural gas played a role in the blast, but it's not yet clear whether it was an accident or intentionally set.

Inspections showed no leaks in the neighborhood's gas mains, a utility spokesman said.

"We don't know where the evidence is going to lead on this point," Riggs said.

He asked for the public to be patient while the investigation progresses. He said the size of the blast site, plus Monday's poor weather, hasn't made the investigation any easier.

A police report Monday morning said Jennifer L. Longworth, 36, and her husband, John D. Longworth, 34, are presumed dead in the blast, adding remains were found in the basement of their home. A report from the Marion County, Ind., coroner is needed to officially establish their identities.

Residents of the subdivision were learning Monday who can go home.

The damaged houses are being inspected by the City of Indianapolis' code enforcement staff to see if they can be repaired or must be torn down. Fire Department spokesman Rita Burris said the staff are talking to residents about insurance issues and possible demolition.

Fire Department spokeswoman Rita Burris said some homeowners were escorted by firefighters to their houses Monday. They had an hour to retrieve necessities before leaving their houses until the enforcement staff determined what to do with the properties.

"We're doing everything we can to make sure that this comes to a good resolution," Burris said. "There is no good resolution if this has occurred out of the blue for most of the people."

The dining room at Southport Presbyterian Church, where city staff were meeting with residents, looked more like a thrift store Monday. Rows and rows of donations, such as canned goods, water bottles, toiletries, shoes, winter jackets, school uniforms and stuffed toys, were available.

Ron McAhron, head deacon at the church, said donations started coming in Sunday. By Monday morning, donations filled the entire room.

"We're very impressed and amazed and pleased with what we've gotten (from residents)," McAhron said.

By Tony Cook, Ryan Sabalow and Kristine Guerra, The Indianapolis Star

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