State Fire Marshal’s Office believes gas leak caused May 22 building explosion in Columbia City

By Jennifer Romano

A month after an explosion rattled Columbia City, the Indiana State Fire Marshall’s office provided some insight this morning into what happened.
On May 22, 2021, around 9 a.m., multiple fire departments and police agencies responded to a building explosion at 515 North Line Street, finding the building fully engulfed and debris scattered some distance away. Two men were able to escape the blaze; one man was trapped and perished in the blast. Several neighboring structures to the south and west of the explosion site were damaged as well.
An investigation by the Indiana State Police, Whitley County Coroner’s Office and the Indiana Fire Marshal’s Office have been ongoing since the explosion, hoping to shed light on what might have happened that morning.
According to a statement released this morning from the Indiana Fire Marshal’s Office, “We completed the scene examination in Columbia City. We examined all of the natural gas lines in the building and tested them. Several of the connections were found with minor leaks in them probably from the explosion and fire. A gas valve located along the back wall was examined and revealed the most significant leak in the building. This valve was near the victim’s location. The victim was a known smoker.”
The statement continued, “No evidence was found indicating a manual intentional manipulation of the building’s natural gas system occurred prior to the explosion. All of the evidence gathered indicates the explosion was caused by an unintentional natural gas leak ignited by an independent ignition source.”

The building at 515 North Line Street included an apartment and several business rental spaces. A pet store had been planning to open in the location within weeks of the explosion. The site was the former location of R&D Motorsports many years ago.