Gas leak and smoking the likely causes of Columbia City explosion

UPDATE (June 22, 2021):

Indiana State Police have given an update regarding an explosion that rocked a building in Columbia City and claimed the life of one man inside.

It happened last month at 515 N. Line Street. State Police say that they haven’t finalized their portion of the investigation yet but were able to release preliminary findings, as well as the identity of the man killed in the explosion.

Indiana State Police officials released the following on Tuesday:

In cooperation with the Whitley County Coroner’s Office and the Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Indiana State Police is now able to release the following information related to the building explosion and subsequent death investigation in Columbia City which occurred on May 22, 2021.

Whitley County Coroner’s Office

The Whitley County Coroner, based on DNA testing conducted by the Indiana State Police Fort Wayne Regional Laboratory, has confirmed the identity of the deceased victim in the building explosion as Zachery Sparkman, 34, of LaOtto, IN. The manner and cause of death has not yet been officially released, information which will come from the official autopsy report pending with the Northeast Indiana Forensic Center in Fort Wayne.

Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office

The Indiana State Fire Marshal’s Office investigation has concluded with the following statement: “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.

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.”

Indiana State Police

The Indiana State Police investigators have not yet finalized their portion of the death investigation, which is pending the final autopsy report from the Northeast Indiana Forensic Center.


ORIGINAL STORY (May 22, 2021):

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (ADAMS) – Indiana State Police are investigating after a man died in an explosion on Saturday morning.

Officials say that as of Saturday afternoon, crews remained on the scene to make sure there were no flareups in the debris.

Indiana State Police released the following:

This morning at approximately 9:00am, officers from multiple police agencies and fire departments responded to a reported building explosion at 515 N. Line St, Columbia City, IN.  Arriving first responders found a warehouse structure located on this property fully engulfed in flames.

During the initial response, there were reportedly three adults in or around the building at the time of the initial explosion.  Two of those adults were able to escape the building with only minor injury.  One adult male remained trapped inside and was unable to be rescued due to the size and nature of the fire. There was significant damage to several adjacent business and residential structures to the south and west of the warehouse.

At approximately 2:30pm, after the fire scene was extinguished, police and fire investigators were then able to locate and recover the body of a deceased adult male.

Preliminary cause of the explosion and the subsequent structure fire is believed to be related to a natural gas leak, however the State Fire Marshal’s Office will be handling the fire portion of the investigation which will officially determine the cause and manner.

As part of this ongoing investigation, in cooperation with the Whitley County Coroner’s Office, the Indiana State Police will be the lead agency responsible for the conducting the death investigation, and ISP will be handling all official release of information.

Identifying the deceased will be part of the Whitley County Coroner’s official investigation.  When the identification has been confirmed by the coroner, an update to this initial release will be sent out.

*At the time of this release (just before 4 p.m.), police and fire crews were still working in the area, which has a portion of the 500 block of Line Street shut down to local traffic. This shutdown will be necessary for several hours this evening.

There is no further information available to release at this time.

Agencies assisting in this investigation were:  Troopers and detectives from the Indiana State Police Fort Wayne Post, Columbia City Police Department, Whitley County Sheriff’s Department, Columbia City Fire Department, Union Township Fire, Smith Township Fire, Thorn Creek Township Fire, Columbia Township Fire, Parkview EMS, Whitley County Prosecutor’s Office, Whitely County Coroner’s Office, and the State Fire Marshal’s Office.