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Morgan Park House Explodes, Killing Family Dog

By  Howard Ludwig Mark Konkol and Josh McGhee | December 2, 2014 10:17am | Updated on December 2, 2014 1:57pm

 Emergency crews were on the scene Tuesday morning of a possible natural gas explosion and house fire in Morgan Park.
Morgan Park Fire
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MORGAN PARK — Firefighters were already at the house at 2142 W. 107th Place in Morgan Park on Tuesday when the home next door exploded.

Joe Stull smelled natural gas in his home near Crescent Park at 8 a.m. and later spotted a small fire beneath the boiler.

Stull, a retired Chicago fireman, immediately called 911. Crews arrived about 10 minutes later to extinguish the fire and investigate the suspicious smell.

The firemen shut off the gas to Stull's home and instructed him to pour water down the drains in his basement, as it appeared to be the source of the smell.

Chicago Fire Department scanner: "We're going to start breaking into these houses to ventilate them":

Firefighters also spoke with a crew working to install a new water supply line just outside of Stull's house, he said.

Minutes later, the house to the west of Stull's exploded. A fire ensued shortly thereafter, quickly engulfing the frame house, according to John McNicholas, Chicago Fire Department commissioner.

No one was home at the time of the explosion.

The house is owned by Darlene Sheahan, a teacher at Sutherland Elementary School in Beverly. She has three children, two of whom are away at college. Her youngest child, Luke, was in class at St. Rita High School at the time of the blast, a family member said.

Sheahan's ex-husband, Chicago Fire Capt. Daniel Sheahan, said he was on duty at a North Side firehouse when got a text from a fire lieutenant warning him of the gas leak on his block.

"I wasn't too nervous ... then five minutes later the house exploded," said Capt. Sheahan, who arrived at the scene about 30 minutes after the explosion. "Thank God no one was home. My son flew back to Yale and my daughter drove back to college in Iowa. Luke was at St. Rita and Darlene was teaching. And I'm glad no firefighters were hurt."

But Sheahan said the family dog, Molly, a black Labradoodle, died in the aftermath of the explosion from smoke inhalation.

"We got her four years ago. She was a great dog," Sheahan said. "The kids, especially, are really upset about losing her."

Crews had been working to install a new water main on the street for several weeks. It's believed that a natural gas line was damaged in the process, said Jennifer Block, spokeswoman for People's Gas. But she added that the precise cause of the leak has yet to be determined. An investigation was already underway as of 11 a.m.

Dan and Paula Everett live just east of the house that exploded. Dan Everett also smelled natural gas and notified the crews working outside as well as the firefighters who arrived at Stull's house.

Moments later as he was preparing to go to work, Dan Everett felt the blast.

"It was like a bomb hit. Shoes came flying out of the closet," said Everett, who was at the far end of his home at the time of the explosion.

Firefighters immediately evacuated Everett. Damage to his home was likely kept to a minimum because the Fire Department was already on the scene when the blaze erupted. Still, he worried about smoke damage and any other residual harm to his property.

Paula Everett said she'd spoken with Sheahan, who took some solace in firefighters being able to save some of her family photos. Regardless, the incident clearly left Sheahan shaken.

"She's in shock," Paula Everett said.

Sheahan's house appeared to be a total loss. Stull's house was also badly damaged. All his windows facing west were shattered by the explosion. His siding was melted by the fire and water damage to his house was extensive, leaking into the open windows and through the basement.

Water "was just pouring into the house," Stull said.

Residents of all the nearby homes were told to open their windows in an effort to vent any lingering gas. Gas service was also shut down as the investigation and subsequent repair took place. But by 3:30 p.m., most homes in the area saw service restored.

Neighbor, Eric Farnan peaked his head outside after the explosion and witnessed the fire. He captured both events on video using his cell phone. Farnan said smoke began emerging from the home at 9:32 a.m. It collapsed in flames seven minutes later.

In the wake of the fire, Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) and Beverly Bank & Trust Co. at 10258 S. Western Ave. in Beverly set up an account for the Sheahan family. Donations can be routed to account number 400099295.

"It's for anyone that wants to help get this family back on their feet," O'Shea said.

Howard Ludwig at the scene of the explosion: