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How do you walk away unhurt from an explosion and fire like this?
Sultan woman did,
perhaps against all odds

November 03, 2017

What was left of the Sultan home after the explosion and fire. Sky Valley Chronicle photos. Larger images below.

LARGER images of fire scene in Sultan. Sky Valley Chronicle photos. CLICK TO ENLARGE
Chronicle staff

Update 11/4/17: This story has been updated to correct name of gas company mentioned in earlier accounts from Snohomish County PUD to Puget Sound Energy, which is the company that supplies natural gas to the neighborhood. Fire offcials had initially given the Chronicle the name Snohomish County PUD.

(SULTAN, WA.) -- It is difficult to imagine, looking at the charred, sagging remains of what was once a nice middle class home in Sultan, that anyone could walk away from that type of carnage unscathed.

If you're a religious person you might think what happened early Thursday morning in Sultan was most certainly a miracle. Professional gamblers in Vegas might say luck of the draw pal, that's the way the universe works.

Some days death comes calling and he can't find you.

Either way, it was an extremely fortunate chain of events that saw a Sultan woman walk away uninjured from a massive home explosion and fire that caught her while she was sleeping on Thursday in her home in the 1200 block of Kessler Drive in the city's Eagle Ridge home development.

Late Thursday afternoon fire officials strongly suspected, but were not 100% certain the blast was caused by some type of leaking gas: possibly natural gas or even propane gas leaking from one or more consumer grade cylinders, the type you use in an outside grill to cook food.

The blast, heard and felt for miles away, and the resulting fire destroyed the house. What was once there is now a tear down and rebuild

It was also fortunate that a neighbor's home that caught fire from the flames that consumed the exploding house at 1209 Kessler Drive did not burn to the ground or that someone wasn't out for a morning run at about 5:45 am and was jogging past the home that was ripped apart by an explosive force so potent it sent killer debris flying in all directions including clear across the street into a neighbor's yard.

The blast was huge

The time was 5:48 am Thursday morning, said Sultan Fire Chief Merlin Halvorson, of Fire District 5. He told the Chronicle that is when the first call came in about the explosion.

"It was a huge explosion," said Halverson. "It was heard all the way downtown. It blew the front off the building (the home) and across the street. Actually the cars (two cars belonging to the homeowners) were buried under the debris and some of the parts to the garage door and the building were across Kessler Drive, which is a pretty wide street."

One man in Sultan who lives miles away from the blast told the Chronicle that at about 5:45 am he felt his house shake with a huge "thud" as though someone had run into it with a car. He went outside with a flashlight and was amazed to find nothing amiss.

What he had felt, but not heard, was the concussive force of that massive explosion on Eagle Ridge. Moments later, he heard the wail of sirens flying up Highway 2.

The stunner

Chief Halvorson says when his firefighters arrived shortly after the blast the home was fully involved in flames and the fire had spread to a second home nearby.

And the stunner is this: Halvorson said the woman who had been sleeping in the home was not only not injured, she told firefighters she didn't hear the explosion go off.

She said the first thing she remembers is smoke detectors going off. "So she got up," says Halvorson "and tried to get out the front door but it was buried in debris so she went out the back and exited out the sliding glass door, down some steps and left the building."

Compounding the issue of fighting the fire says Halverson was the fact that man who lives in the home with his fiancé,' later identified in news reports as Army Sgt. Jack Bridenstine, does some gunsmith work in the house and ammunition rounds were firing as the house was ablaze.

That sort of thing will perk you right up, make you walk real straight if you're a fire fighter.

Bridenstine had left for work about 15 to 20 minutes before the explosion went off. Chief Halverson says the fire was put out about 50 minutes from the first call, or about 6:40 am and the fire marshal spent much of the day on scene trying to determine the cause.

The gas thing

Yesterday afternoon Puget Sound Energy crews were there using jackhammers to dig up the gas line all the way back to the main line to see what type of damage it may have sustained in the blast and also presumably to try and determine if it was their line that had perhaps been leaking gas to cause the explosion.

Halvorson said the force of the blast blew the natural gas meter right off the pipe so as the home was burning, 'We had an open natural gas flow and it was burning like large blow torch in the front."

Fire officials lean toward a cause as some type of gas produced blast but as of late Thursday afternoon had not determined with certainty if it was a natural gas caused explosion or a blast produced by about a half a dozen consumer grade propane gas tanks.

Halverson said the homeowner had recently filled those tanks and they were stored in the garage.

"It seems pretty clear the building filled up with either natural gas or propane and went to a pilot light somewhere and ignited," said Halvorson.

By the way, as you'll see in the video below you're not supposed to store propane tanks in a garage. Something about the gas possibly leaking out and causing some problems.

Chief Halvorson says some 19 firefighters from his district as well as Districts 26 and 7 were on scene with 5 engines, 1 aid car and other rigs to fight the fire.

The final miracle

And here, says Chief Halverson, is the second miracle of the day. Sgt. Bridenstine has two children that often come and stay at the house. That is why the home contains bunk beds.

Had the kids been sleeping in those beds, it is likely they would have been seriously injured or killed because the blast occurred so close to those beds.



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