A propane gas leak is suspected in the explosion at a home in Azle, near unincorporated Tarrant County on Tuesday.
The Tarrant County Fire Department responded to initial reports of possible explosions in the area of Nine Mile Road at the intersection of Appian Way at about 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
Barbara Pickard has lived at the house, which her grandfather built, since 1994. She had gotten off work early and decided to treat herself to a meal out and some holiday shopping; otherwise she would have been home around the time of the explosion.
“Outside of a couple of hours I might have been here,” she said Wednesday.
She rents out another building on the property to another man, but he wasn’t home either at the time of the blast.
Pickard hugged friends, talked to neighbors and surveyed the damage on Wednesday as arson investigators and the Texas Railroad Commission sifted through the rubble of her home.
“I'm truly blessed, I know that angel was on my shoulder looking after me,” Pickard said. “My knees are still knocking and shaking. And like my boss told me this morning, he said, ‘you know, you’re here.’ And I said, ‘yeah.’ I'm so tremendously thankful to be alive when I'm looking at this.”
Pickard showed NBC 5 a picture of what the one-story house used to look like. The eastern wall now rests on her neighbor’s fence, with nails and glass scattered onto his property. The southern wall was blown across the street and hit a tree.
Neighbor Bobby Cure said it felt like a bomb went off.
“And there was just a big fire ball,” Cure said. “It was red and yellow and over the telephone poles. First thing I thought about was Barbara. If Barbara is there, no way she can live through this.”
Fortunately Pickard did not come home as quickly as she usually does. She said she saw the plume of smoke as she got off Interstate-820 to shop in Lake Worth.
On Wednesday, Tarrant County Fire Marshal Randy Renois said there was a propane gas build-up in the house, which lead to the explosion. Renois said a gas leak is suspected, however where exactly the gas leaked from is under investigation.
Representatives from the Railroad Commission tested the gas lines Wednesday afternoon in an effort to pinpoint the leak. It’s also not known what ignited the gas. Pickard does use a personal heater in the home but shut it off before leaving for work.
“I didn't smell anything (yesterday) morning, nothing out of the ordinary for me,” she said.
Pickard felt bad that she had her cell phone off and then it had died before she got home. She missed dozens of phone calls as friends, neighbors and authorities were trying to determine if she was home or not.
When she arrived Pickard was most concerned with her animals. She was able to find three of her four dogs, who were singed from the blast. But she was still missing one of her dogs and she was also carrying for a stray that had just had puppies.
While Pickard says she’s just taking this minute by minute, she was also worried about the damage done to her neighbors and anyone looking for her.
“I’m just wobbly kneed that they were so concerned and made that effort to race up the hill and what they described was a giant fireball,” she said. “You don’t want anyone to race into that situation on your behalf and put them in danger.”
While the cause is still under investigation, it comes just weeks after a Johnson County woman died when her house exploded.
Fire Marshal Renois says homeowners should check that their pilot light is on, because that can be a source of a leak, and to have any appliances connected to the gas properly installed. It has not been determined though if either of those conditions contributed to Pickard’s house explosion.
Pickard is staying with family members and plans on taking her injured dogs to a vet as soon as she can.