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Natural gas explosion, building collapse injures 9 on Santa Fe Drive in Denver

Posted at 1:47 PM, Aug 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-15 00:25:53-04

DENVER – A natural gas explosion caused at least one residential building to partially collapse Tuesday on Santa Fe Drive near 4th Ave. in Denver, injuring at least nine people.

There was initially some confusion as to exactly how many people were injured in the blast and subsequent collapse. Denver Fire Captain Greg Pixley said at a 2 p.m. news conference that of the people injured, one was injured critically. He originally said 10 people had been injured, then DFD said seven people were injured, but Denver Health officials later reaffirmed that there were nine people injured.

A high-ranking Denver official told Contact7 Chief Investigator Tony Kovaleski shortly before 6 p.m. that there is good reason to call in arson investigators for a full examination of what caused the explosion.

VIEW: See photos of the aftermath of the explosion and building collapse

Simon Crittle, a spokesperson for Denver Health Medical Center, said two people were transported to the hospital by ambulance after the explosion and collapse. One of the people suffered traumatic injuries in the explosion. The other person was stable Tuesday afternoon.

The person who suffered the more-serious injuries was transported to University Hospital after initially being treated at Denver Health.

Crittle said that several other people were being treated at the scene of the explosion and collapse and that first responders were looking for other possible victims.

Pixley said the explosion was reported at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday and said several buildings were damaged in the area. One person who had been trapped was rescued by firefighters.

Pixley said that crews were working to put out an active fire at the scene in addition to working to reduce the chance of other explosions in the area and further collapses. He said there were no reported deaths as of 2:10 p.m.

Santa Fe Drive is closed in both directions from Ellsworth Ave. to 5th Ave., Denver police said. However, two lanes of traffic reopened later in the evening.

An Xcel Energy spokeswoman said the company is working to turn off gas remotely. The spokeswoman said the company has a distribution site at Lipan Street and Santa Fe Drive and staff at that location said they felt the explosion.

Eileen Andrews, who owns the nearby Baker Neighborhood Market, said she saw a man run from the wreckage of the explosion who had his clothes blown almost entirely off his body and that the man suffered burns.

"I mean everything was exposed -- he barely had a couple strings left of his pants. He was completely exposed and said he didn't know what happened," she said. "It was just like the biggest, loudest boom I've ever heard."

She said some men who had been working on her business' HVAC system ran over to help the man and another trapped woman.

Another neighbor, Edward Scott, said he was on the phone with his insurance company at his nearby home when the explosion happened.

"[The insurance agent] was on the phone with me going, 'What happened, what happened?' and I said, 'I don't know, I think my house just blew up,'" Scott said.

He said he was hit by wood debris from the explosion and that the shockwave from the blast was so intense he thought his own home had exploded. When he realized it was another home across the street, he said he walked over to the scene and saw a person rescued from the rubble.

"It was two people ... a lady. And then this guy picked her up and firemen carried her out of the house," Scott said. "And then the other one ... and they were boyfriend-girlfriend and they were both bartenders and they were sleeping."

Scott said the woman had been looking for her cat, which was missing, but which was later discovered alive at the scene.

"It just -- it was crazy. The compression was just so strong. My ears are still ringing," he said.

At a 4:45 p.m. news conference, Pixley said investigators were reviewing closed circuit video from the area to rule out possible "malfeasance" in the explosion. He said that cadaver dogs were also being used to go through the rubble. However, the Denver Fire Department later tweeted Tuesday evening that no additional victims were found.

Denver Community Planning and Development said there were not active permits at the home that exploded.

"We have no active and no recent. It's always possible someone was doing work without permits, but we have not had any preliminary info. pointing to that thus far," Planning and Development spokesperson Andrea Burns told Contact7 Investigates.

Another natural gas explosion just about a block away rocked the area 22 years ago. However, Pixley said the 1996 incident has no connection to Tuesday's explosion.