Woodstock explosion: How events unfolded and what we know so far

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.

Woodstock was rocked by an explosion in the downtown area about 2:30 p.m. Monday that damaged 10 structures and left one home in a pile of burning rubble. Here’s what we know so far about how events unfolded.

First, a gas leak

About 12:30 p.m. Monday – A Woodstock city employee reports to City Manager Roscoe Stelford that a gas leak has occurred in the area of North Tryon Street and Lincoln Avenue just northwest of downtown. Stelford tells the worker to call 911, according to an email Stelford sent to the City Council.

12:35 p.m. – The Woodstock Fire-Rescue District responds to the scene and determines a “contract crew” working in the area has struck a 2-inch gas main inside a sewer line, according to a district Facebook post late Monday night. Neighbors later report having smelled a heavy odor of natural gas in the area.

About 1 p.m. – Nicor personnel arrive on the scene, according to the fire officials, who then “as a precaution,” evacuated St. Mary Catholic Church and School on the block and advise homeowners to shelter in place. Because of the Columbus Day holiday, school was not in session, and Tuesday classes have been canceled.

1:50 p.m. – The city manager emails the council and Mayor Mike Turner about the gas leak, advising that Tryon Street has been shut down from Judd Street to Route 120, and Lincoln Avenue closed from to Dacy Street. “We have been informing people in the impacted area to stay inside,” he wrote. “Nicor is currently on the scene.” Around the same time, the fire district posts about the leak and street closures on Facebook.

Then, a boom

2:38 p.m. – Firefighters were still on the scene when a two-story home across Lincoln Avenue from the church exploded. The blast “instantly leveled the home and subsequently ignited a fire in several adjacent structures.”

People visiting or working in the historic Woodstock Square area just blocks away report hearing a large boom followed by smoke filling the area. The blast shakes homes, knocks bottles off the bar and breaks patios windows at Napoli Pizza and causes damage to at least 10 properties total.

A larger area around the explosion is now evacuated.

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.

The fire district puts out a request for mutual aid, raising the incident to a Level 2 for help at the scene and to provide backup assistance at local stations. “A short time later command requested the incident to be upgraded to the 4th alarm bringing in a total of 20 fire agencies to the scene with several others covering our stations,” the district said in a later news release.

2:54 p.m. – The city manager updates the council via email that one house has been “decimat[ed]” in the blast and at least one other damaged and that he was awaiting word on any casualties or injuries.

About 3:30 p.m. – Nicor contains the gas leak and has shut off the gas to the area, according to a new release issued by the city later Monday.

Remainder of afternoon and into evening – Crews continue to battle the fires on the block and check for residual gas.

As the situation is contained, officials begin to account for all people who were in the area and to assess damage. The Red Cross also arrives on the scene to provide aid.

A ‘miracle’ update

About 7 p.m. – City officials hold a news conference, their first formal response to media questions about the explosion. Official report that 10 structures were damaged, that an investigation into the cause continued and that no one was injured in the explosion itself, although two firefighters were taken to local hospitals with minor injuries.

State Sen. Craig Wilcox, whose legislative office is nearby, later released a statement that when he “surveyed the area later in the afternoon, it seemed miraculous that there was no loss of human life.”

According to two gofundme fundraisers apparently set up for the couple and a roommate whose home was destroyed, at least one of their dogs perished in the blast, another was injured and a cat was missing.

The aftermath

10:30 a.m. Tuesday - The morning after the explosion, Lincoln Avenue was very quiet. Few people were out and about, and fencing surrounded many of the affected homes. Tryon Street between Judd Street and Washington Street was still closed on Tuesday morning, as was Lincoln Avenue east of Dacy Street. The Woodstock library parking lot had few, if any, cars in the lot, and the library announced on social media they were closed today.

Firefighters were still throwing water on the house west of the explosion, and Alex Vucha, who does communications for the Woodstock fire department, said firefighters were still trying to hit some hot spots in that house. Gas was still shut off at homes in the area, and crews were working to shut off water at some of the affected homes Tuesday morning.

At St. Mary Church and School, located across the street from where the blast occurred, protective coverings on some stained glass windows in the church section were shattered, and the church said on Facebook that it would be closed until further notice. Shards of glass were littered on the sidewalk in front of the church facing Lincoln Avenue.

Stelford, the city manager, said the city was going to put together a website with resources for residents affected by the home explosion. The fire department cleared out by early afternoon Tuesday, and the city and Nicor were still on the scene. A Nicor spokesperson said in a message that Nicor is restoring gas services Tuesday.

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