Woodstock explosion damages 10 structures, levels 1 house after gas leak

Blast rocks downtown area Monday afternoon

Firefighters next to a pile of ruble in the 300 block of Lincoln Avenue in Woodstock Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, after an explosion following suspected gas leak in the area.

An explosion Monday afternoon in Woodstock damaged 10 structures, including one house that was completely destroyed, but no one was seriously injured. Two firefighters suffered minor injuries fighting the subsequent blazes.

The blast shook buildings, filled the city’s historic Square with smoke and caused a loud boom that reverberated throughout town. It was preceded by a gas leak that had prompted a smaller evacuation earlier in the day.

A burning pile of rubble was all that remained of the most severely damaged house, located along Lincoln Avenue. Homes on either side of it also sustained damaged, and at least one appeared uninhabitable.

Before the explosion, the Woodstock Fire/Rescue District had reported that the area of Tryon Street between Washington and Judd streets was closed because of a “natural gas leak in the roadway.”

Firefighters battle a house fire in the 300 block of Lincoln Avenue in Woodstock Monday, Oct. 9, 2023, after an explosion following suspected gas leak in the area.

City Manager Roscoe Stelford sent an email to other city officials about 3 p.m. saying one home was “decimat[ed]” and reporting that a garage was on fire on north Judd Street.

Nicor Gas released an initial statement Monday evening that didn’t address the earlier gas leak or any potential cause of the explosion.

“The safety of the public and every family we serve is our No. 1 value. Nicor Gas crews are on-site working with first responders to safely secure the area and to assist local authorities with their investigation of this incident,” according to the statement.

The gas company later released an update saying that a “third party conducting work unrelated to Nicor Gas damaged a natural gas pipeline in the 200 block of Tryon Street.”

The statement didn’t name the third party but said Nicor personnel were at the scene “working with first responders to safety secure the area and to assist local authorities with their investigation.”

Later Monday evening, residents who were evacuated from their homes were awaiting word about when they could return. Mayor Mike Turner said about 5:45 p.m. that residents were allowed back into their homes.

Turner said the American Red Cross had arrived to provide assistance.

Other than the brief evening comment from Turner, the city provided no official response until a news conference after 7 p.m. and then a news release issued about 8 p.m. In the release, officials said a city employee notified the city manager about the leak about 12:30 p.m. and was advised to call 911.

According to the release, emergency officials responded quickly, but it didn’t indicate what work or digging was taking place in the area when the gas leak occurred and whether the work was being done by city crews or contractors.

City officials said they were told by Nicor that the gas leak was contained, and the gas was shut off after 3:30 p.m. Monday, but they advised residents to check with the fire department and gas company officials at the scene to ensure their homes were safe to reenter.

Some home could be without gas or electricity, according to the release.

St. Mary Catholic Church and School at the corner of Tryon Street and Lincoln Avenue was evacuated during the earlier gas leak, and people in surrounding homes were advised to shelter in place, but a wider area was evacuated after the explosion.

Brigitte Baker, owner of Napoli Pizza Place at 135 Washington St., said that inside her restaurant, the blast sent bottles flying off the bar and blew out some of the patio windows and framing.

St. Mary School announced on its Facebook page that Tuesday classes have been canceled because of the explosion “for the safety of our students.”

“Please keep the neighborhood families, all emergency workers and the school building in your prayers,” the post read.

School was not in session Monday because of Columbus Day.

The legislative offices of state Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry, are located on the Woodstock Square. He issued a statement late Monday saying his “deepest appreciation goes out to the first responders who were on the scene quickly, and the neighboring departments that provided assistance at the scene of the explosion. The devastation in the immediate area was difficult to see, as these homes near the Square provide a great deal of charm and character in the downtown area of Woodstock.”

“I was relieved to learn that the owners of the home that was leveled were not at home at the time of the blast. When I surveyed the area later in the afternoon, it seemed miraculous that there was no loss of human life. The Nicor and other officials on the scene are certainly doing everything in their power to stabilize the area and ensure the safety of residents who live in this part of the city,” he said.

Julie Shoffner, who lives around the block from the house that exploded, said she took a walk near the house about 1:15 p.m., smelled a “very strong odor of gas” and saw police, fire crews and other workers looking for the gas leak.

About 2:30 p.m., “my whole house shook,” she said.

Shoffner said police were telling people to leave the area, so she walked with her dog to a friend’s house a few blocks away.

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