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Fire Officials Give Preliminary Cause Of Home Explosion In Charlotte's Ballantyne Neighborhood

Spectrum News North Carolina

Updated 4:24 p.m. 

Wednesday afternoon, Charlotte Fire Marshall John Leonard said investigators determined an interior gas leak caused the explosion that leveled a home in the Ballantyne area of Charlotte. 

Rania Karam, 58, was killed when her home on James Jack Lane exploded around 1:45 p.m.  Her husband, Jebran Karam, a cardiologist practicing at Raleigh General Hospital in Beckley, West Virginia, was seriously injured in the explosion.

The fire department says it took rescuers about seven hours find Rania Karam in the debris. 

First responders were able to find Jebran Karam after he called 911 while trapped in the home and gave his location, according to the department. He was airlifted by helicopter to the hospital with what officials described as life-threatening injuries.

Firefighters said Tuesday night they’re confident the Karams were the only people in the house during the explosion.

The house was leveled in the explosion, which also damaged nearby homes.

 Investigators examine the damage after Tuesday's explosion.
Credit David Boraks / WFAE
Investigators examine the damage after Tuesday's explosion.

Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the blast. In a statement sent Wednesday morning, Piedmont Natural Gas said technicians checked gas lines in the area and did not detect any natural gas leaks.

Lori Campe lives across the street from where the explosion occurred. She was at home with her kids when she heard what sounded like a bomb. She said her entire home shook, and she heard cracks.

"My front door was blown open," Campe said. "I saw my dining room - literally the walls were falling in. And I found - I got the kids, and we went to the garage and it was imploded. So I said we have to run out of here, and we ran out."

Scraps of wood and insulation were strewn across the road, and her neighbors’ home had been reduced to a smoldering pile of rubble. Firefighters arrived within minutes and pulled the man from the wreckage after several hours of searching for him.

Mecklenburg EMS reported that two people from nearby homes were treated at the scene for non-life threatening injuries.

WFAE reporter Nick de la Canal gives an update from the scene of a home explosion in Ballantyne.

Charlotte Fire Battalion Chief Matthew Westover said it's too early to determine the cause of the blast because firefighters were in search and rescue mode through much of Tuesday.

"Once we clear the structure for any remaining victims or potential victims, then we’ll drop back into an investigation mode, and then that’ll take some time to figure out the cause," Westover said.

Residents who lived in the Cheswyck at Ballantyne Apartments a street over said the building shook. Devaraj Narravula said the ceiling cracked inside his apartment. 

People at Ballantyne Corporate Place a couple of miles away reported feeling their office buildings shake when the explosion occurred.

With temperatures in the 90s, firefighters take breaks to cool and hydrate while working to clear the scene of the home explosion.
Credit Nick de la Canal / WFAE
With temperatures in the 90s, firefighters take breaks to cool and hydrate while working to clear debris from the home explosion.

About 80 firefighters were on the scene Tuesday.  

The fire department later said seven firefighters were treated for dehydration at the scene amid temperatures in the mid-90s.

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.
Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal