An explosion in a building at the intersection of West End and Central Ave has left our community in mourning once again. Shabron Robinson, a letter carrier, was beloved by his neighbors and the people on his route. He succumbed to the injuries he sustained in the explosion. Seven other people were injured that day.
The cause of the explosion is still unknown. According to ABC 7, “Fire officials said the explosion came from natural gas igniting, and the building's owner said it sparked inside Robinson's unit. The cause of that ignition remains undetermined.”
Our hearts go out to Robinson’s family and friends and to those who were injured, as well as those who have lost their homes in this horrific incident.
Cooler weather brings greater risks of housefires in Chicago
We don’t know what happened to Mr. Robinson’s unit that natural gas was able to ignite: was it a faulty wire? Was there a leak? We do know, though, that the risk of fires (and potentially explosions) can increase in the wintertime, as people turn to gas heat and electric space heaters to keep warm. As horrific as this explosion was – and it was – we fear the risks of injury will be far greater for far more people once everyone is bundled up at home.
Putting out fires can be harder in winter, too:
Frozen pumps, ice-coated gear, or slippery roadways — any of these can be challenges for fire departments responding to fires or emergency scenes when temperatures plummet.
Winter brings its own set of fire safety hazards, from overworked heating systems to poorly maintained chimneys, but on the fire scene itself, the extreme weather also has firefighters thinking about safety in spades.
"The dangers are multiplied in cold weather," said Lt. Thomas Basher of the Ithaca Fire Department. "Fighting fires in cold is very difficult; everything freezes up, the pumps and hydrants. Sometimes, you have to chip through ice in ponds just to get to water."
As such, even if the CFD can get to the fire and explosion site quickly, it can take longer to get control – and the longer it takes, the greater the chance the damage will spread.
What are the common causes of Chicago housefires in winter?
We’ve discussed the dangers of space heaters before; about two years ago, a space heater fire led to the deaths of a mother and her four daughters in Des Plaines. Most space heaters are electric, so the danger is, of course, an electrical fire, which in turn can lead to burn injuries, smoke and ash inhalation, and potentially death. If your space heater runs on fuels, there’s an added risk of CO poisoning, which can be fatal.
Other risks can include sparks form wood-burning fireplaces, holiday lights, and kitchen fires, which are far more likely as the holiday season approaches.
But if your home has a gas leak somewhere, and there’s an issue with the space heater (or any electrical appliance or product in your home), it can cause the type of fiery explosion we saw last week.
Identifying a gas leak in your home
Though some gas leaks will lead to a definitive smell (some people describe it like rotten eggs), a small, slow leak may not be detectable. And the truth is that these days, people may haver a harder time identifying that smell, anyway, if they’re suffering from long COVID. So we want to make sure that you recognize the other signs of a potential gas leak. They can include:
- a hissing or whistling sound near a gas line
- a white cloud or dust cloud near a gas line
- bubbles in water
- a damaged gas pipe
- dead houseplants
Higher gas bills may also be likely, and you may even experience symptoms yourself that you chalk up to the flu – headaches, nausea, fatigue, breathing difficulty, etc.
A quick note about your pets
Your pets can also experience similar symptoms. We know a lot of people who may put off seeing a doctor for themselves, but will take their pets to the vet at the first sign of illness. If you take Fido or Daisy into the vet, ask if their behavior could be related to a gas leak. It may save all of your collective lives.
What should I do if I have a gas leak?
If you identify a gas leak, by the smell or by any other sign, get out of the house immediately. Don’t close the door behind you, either; let the air get in. Once you are safely out of the house, call the gas company and report it:
|Consumers Gas Company |
|Ameren Illinois Company |
|MidAmerican Energy Company |
|Illinois Gas Company |
|Mt. Carmel Public Utility Company |
|Peoples Gas Light and Coke Company |
|North Shore Gas Company |
|Nicor Gas |
|Liberty Utilities (Midstates Natural Gas) Corp |
If it really is a gas leak, you’ll need medical care if you were exposed for too long.
What happened last week was a tragedy in every sense of the word, and we hope the information we provided here can help prevent another incident like it. If you are hurt in a house fire or explosion anywhere in Chicago, the experienced injury attorneys at Gainsberg Law, P.C., can help. Call our office at 312-600-9585 or complete our contact form to schedule a free consultation. We proudly serve the greater Chicagoland areas.
Neal S. Gainsberg has spent the last 20 years fighting to protect the rights of the injured in Chicago and throughout Illinois. From consumer rights and bankruptcy to catastrophic injuries and wrongful death, Mr. Gainsberg stands up to large corporations, insurance companies, creditors and hospital administrators to ensure that his clients’ futures are safe and secure. Learn More