Feb. 26, 2007

Delano Fire Department spends day at scene of home explosion in Corcoran

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

Delano Fire Department assisted Loretto Fire Department with a house explosion Wednesday morning in Corcoran where a man lost his life.

Homeowner Daniel A. Johnson, 43, along with his wife, Pam, and two-year-old child, Aiden, were at the residence on Hennepin County Road 19 Tuesday evening.

Around 10 p.m., a company came and filled the propane tank on the property, due to problems the family was having with its furnace. Johnson’s wife and son left the residence after noting a “furnace smell,” but Johnson stayed behind.

Someone was due Wednesday morning to inspect the furnace further, according to Corcoran Police Chief Sean Gormley.

The following morning, the couple exchanged cell phone messages around 7 a.m., and about 20 minutes later, the home exploded.

“I was in the garage when it happened,” said neighbor Lynette Norling. “It literally shook the garage.”

Norling said after she heard the noise, she checked to see if it was her house, because it sounded like the noise was that close.

Once she realized it was not her residence, she went into her house and on to a balcony outside of her bedroom where she could see flames coming from her neighbor’s residence.

She immediately called 911, and said the smoke was gray, at first, then turned a dark black.

“I was almost in tears,” she said. “It was so intense.”

Not long after her 911 call, fire departments from Loretto and Hamel arrived on the scene. Mutual aid was quickly called upon from Hanover, Maple Plain, Rogers, Rockford, and Delano. Five police departments also assisted at the scene of the explosion.

“We took tankers and manpower over to fight the fire and haul water,” said Delano Fire Chief Bob Van Lith. “After the fire was out, we worked with the state fire marshal to assist with locating (the body).”

Nine members of the Delano Fire Department responded, and remained on scene until about 4:30 p.m.

“We were the initial team for digging, trying to locate him,” Van Lith said, adding that Loretto also was part of the first crew. A dog was brought in to assist officials in trying to locate Johnson. Van Lith said Rockford, Hamel, and Hanover took over search efforts after them.

Authorities located Johnson’s body around 6:15 p.m. Wednesday.

“We were gone before they found him,” Van Lith said.

The cause of the explosion was under investigation, though Rick Kleis of the state fire marshal’s office said he believed something ignited propane gas, causing the blast and subsequent fire.

A propane tank was more than 50 feet from the house and fed the fire until a firefighter turned off the gas flow, he said.

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