ST. LOUIS COUNTY – Explosives used to make fireworks may be behind a home explosion and fire early Friday that killed two people and seriously injured four others near Black Jack .
Authorities have identified one of those who died as 17-year-old Christopher Jones. The identity of the second victim has not been released.
The blast around 1:20 a.m. Friday demolished a home at 6680 Parker Road, rocked nearby homes and blew out the windows of some neighbors. Debris rained down on a street more than a block away.
Jones lived in the house that exploded and was pronounced dead at Mercy Hospital St. Louis in Creve Coeur. Then, late Friday afternoon, investigators discovered the second body in the rubble of the house.
Police did not say whether the injured survivors are adults or children. A woman lived in the split-level house with her four sons, aged around 6 to their late teens, and a man also often stayed there, according to two neighbors.
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As investigators continue their investigation, the local fire chief told the Post-Dispatch that the culprit may be explosives the youths were using to set off fireworks in the home’s garage. It’s preliminary, he said, but this tragedy could be seen as a teachable moment.
“They were visiting teenagers and children, and they were trying to put on fireworks,” said Ankeneth Corbin, fire chief for the Black Jack Fire Protection District. “If you buy 50 pounds of explosive, you’ve just created a bomb.
“Electrostatic, anything, can cause a spark,” Corbin added.
St. Louis County Police Officer Adrian Washington said he had nothing new to share about 12 hours after the explosion.
Near the scene on Parker Road, rescuers set up a triage station in an alley across the street on North Ranch Drive.
“It was pure chaos,” said Nichole Thomas, who saw flames engulf her neighbour’s house and a young boy and others running frantically through the yard.
“There are children in the house!” Thomas screamed as she used her mobile phone to film the scene of the fire from her porch. “Oh my God. Oh my God.”
Authorities have not said for sure what caused the deadly explosion.
Investigators from the regional bomb and arson squad spent the morning searching the rubble for clues. They were particularly focused on what had been a garage next to the four-bedroom brick house. The garage was leveled and the house was a burned out shell with partial walls still standing.
The neighborhood is the North Ranch Acres subdivision, west of Highway 367, in the unincorporated county of St. Louis.
The blast rocked neighbors’ homes, blowing out the side windows of some. Sections of roof, drywall, plaster and other materials littered the street and a lawn across the street. A resident of Partridge Run Drive, nearly two blocks away, reported debris in her yard.
Police found a victim with deep lacerations, possibly an amputation, near where the garage was located, according to dispatchers. Another person had burns and cuts. At least two were rushed to Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, and paramedics took at least one other victim to nearby Christian Hospital.
“They were blown from the area of the blast,” Corbin said.
“The EMS picked them up and ran away,” added Black Jack Fire Battalion Chief Thomas Torminio.
Police asked nearby residents to come out and wait in the street for around 90 minutes while ensuring there was no further threat of an explosion or gas leak.
Thomas, who lives next to the house that exploded, said the boom shook his house. “Honestly, we thought it was a big tree hitting our roof,” Thomas said. “Our neighbors thought the same.”
She got out, saw orange flames shoot through the air nearby, and heard glass shattering. The force of the explosion shattered his garage window. Another neighbor, around the corner with Thomas, said pictures fell from her wall and things fell from a cupboard, as if from an earthquake.
“It was pretty hard to watch it burn,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used.
None of the neighbors interviewed by the Post-Dispatch knew the people who lived in the house that exploded. They said the man who stayed there worked on cars, turning them into hot rods. They said the house had a steady stream of traffic.
After the explosion, Thomas said several people were running in the yard between his house and the one on fire.
“The fire was so big. The house is on fire, there are people running everywhere, children…” she said. “There was a little boy, I didn’t know if he lived there or not, but he kind of rushed over. I said, ‘Honey, come here. “”
The boy looked at Thomas but kept running. He looked about 6 or 7 years old, she said.
County records show the home is owned by a property management services company based in Marietta, Georgia.
About 40 firefighters from the Black Jack Fire Protection District and surrounding departments helped fight the two-alarm blaze. No firefighters were injured.
Based on initial calls to 911, firefighters were informed that it was a fire with people trapped and that a vehicle had hit a house. But no car had hit the house; instead, cars parked in the driveway had caught fire in the explosion.
Black Jack Fire Captain Jeremy Bates said the injured were already out of the house when crews arrived. Supervisors ordered firefighters to fight the blaze from outside the building as he was fully involved. It took firefighters about an hour to bring the fire under control and 90 minutes to put it out.
Check back for updates on this breakup story.