MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) - The explosion that leveled a home and left two people badly burned started near a recently installed natural gas space heater that had not yet been inspected, township officials told 24 Hour News 8.
Firefighters identified one of the victims as Bridget Polk, who lived at the home in the 1900 block of Woodward Street.
Incredibly, Polk is already out of the hospital. She stopped by her home Monday afternoon -- about 12 hours after the explosion -- to look at the damage. Bandages covered part of her head and both arms. Relatives said she was thanking God she was alive.
Firefighters were not identifying the other victim, a man in his early 40s, because they hadn't notified relatives.
Township records show Bishop Heating of Muskegon took out a permit to install the gas space heater on Feb. 2.
The company is required to contact the township once it's installed to request an inspection, but Township Plumbing & Mechanical Inspector Jim Callender said he never got that call.
"It's up to the contractor to set up an inspection when the work is done," said Callender, who conducts those inspections. "It's supposed to be done ASAP."
24 Hour News 8 stopped by the Bishop Heating office but our message was not returned.
Township officials say it's unclear what caused the explosion, or whether an inspection would have prevented it.
"It's not necessarily a mechanical failure, or poor installation," Muskegon Township Fire Chief David Glotzbach told 24 Hour News 8. "There's just several factors that will need to be determined to piece that all back together."
Callender said the home is small enough to need only a space heater. The new space heater replaced an old one, he said.
Relatives say the old heater had recently stopped working. They say Polk is on disability and that the Department of Human Services paid $1,700 for the heater.
Glotzbach said investigators were trying to determine what caused the natural gas leak that led to the explosion.
The woman told firefighters she was awakened by a loud hissing about 4 a.m., Glotzbach said.
She "came out in the living room area, and the hissing was coming from the area of the furnace," the chief said. "She attempted to turn the gas off, couldn't get the gas valve to turn, and then unplugged the unit."
The heater uses electricity to power the fan.
"When she pulled that plug, everything just erupted into a total fireball. She said he (her friend) was literally lifted up off the couch, landed halfway toward the bedroom. They managed to literally stumble through the bedroom and out the back window."
The explosion blew out the block walls, but it used up the oxygen inside, which is why there were only small debris fires outside, the chief said.
The woman told firefighters she and the man occasionally bumped the space heater, which was in a cramped space. The chief was wondering if that may have eventually caused the leak.
Firefighters found a brass coupling from the gas supply to the heater had been snapped, but it wasn't clear if that caused the leak, or whether it was cracked in the explosion, Glotzbach said.
"I would have expected if there was some major issue that would have been detected long before six weeks of operation of the unit," the chief said.
24 Hour News 8's Amanda Jarrett contributed to this report.
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