Wednesday, October 18, 2017 Elyria 62°


Investigation into Columbia Avenue explosion continues


ELYRIA — As Matt Mickolick sifted through the debris of his razed home Sunday, his mother tried to maintain perspective.

“It’s just stuff. Everything’s replaceable,” Chris Mickolick said as she surveyed the damage. “Matt and I got out and that’s all that matters.”

The Mickolick’s house at 118 Columbia Ave. had to be demolished early Saturday because of structural damage. The demolition came after a vacant house next door at 116 Columbia Ave., which is owned by Christopher and Jenny Willard, exploded at 9:45 p.m. Friday.

Neighbor Ellen Weiss, of 128 Columbia Ave., said she smelled gas on the street Friday morning. Weiss was one of a few neighborhood residents who said they had smelled gas before the explosion.

Columbia Gas of Ohio spokesman Ray Frank said an ongoing investigation by Columbia Gas and the Fire Department has not yet determined what caused the explosion. He said a complaint by a Stanford Avenue resident about a potential gas leak was unrelated to the explosion.

Frank said leak surveys conducted in the neighborhood after the explosion were negative and the gas service line to 116 Columbia Ave. passed a pressure test after the blast.

“It wasn’t anything, we believe, that was related to our facilities,” he said.

Frank said preliminary findings show the explosion could have been caused by something “downstream of the gas meter” — meaning a pipe from the meter into the house.

Frank said he didn’t have a timetable for when the investigation will conclude.

“These things take time. They’re not easily concluded,” he said. “Especially when you have something that was as damaging as this event was.”

Frank said gas was turned on at 116 Columbia Ave. on Dec. 2 at the request of the Willards and that complete safety checks were performed before the gas was turned on.

The Willards, who couldn’t be reached for comment Sunday, were in the process of selling the home, according to Kevin Brubaker, Elyria Building Department senior manager. Chris Mickolick said she spoke to the Willards on Saturday and said they were shocked and saddened about the explosion. The blast could be heard as far away as North Ridgeville and caused a fire that firefighters needed about 20 minutes to contain.

While no one was seriously injured in the blast, it caused about $300,000 in damage, according to fire Capt. Kevin Szabo. The Willards’ house was valued at $103,710, according to the Lorain County Auditor’s website.

The Mickolick’s house was valued at $77,310. A house at 112 Columbia Ave. that suffered significant damage and might also have to be razed, is valued at $89,070.

Szabo said at least six other homes in the neighborhood had foundation damage or broken windows. Brubaker said cleanup by Elyria-based contractor J.L. Reichert Inc. begins today and is scheduled to be completed Tuesday.

Mickolick said she had to get stitches in her left arm and injured her lower back after being blown out of her reclining chair and across her living room by the force of the blast. Mickolick, a 56-year-old metal stamp press operator, said the chair may have prevented her from being more seriously injured.

Mickolick said the second-floor ceiling of her home collapsed and the chair stopped it from hitting her. The chair also was hit by bricks. Mickolick said her hair was full of broken glass and plaster after the explosion.

“As you’re flying through the air in your chair and the glass is blowing at you, you don’t really hear the explosion because everything happens at once,” she said. “It’s like this split-second of your body flying, loud noise, broken glass and all the power went off in the house.”

Mickolick said neighbors broke open the front door to rescue her and son, Matt, 27, who suffered a bruised right leg. The family’s three dogs were rescued and are staying with friends. The Mickolicks are staying at a hotel paid for by their insurance company.

On Sunday, Matt, his brother, Dan Mickolick, 25, and a few neighbors picked through the approximately 30-yard-by-20-yard pile of rubble that was 10-feet high at its apex. Family pictures, animal statues and Chris Mickolick’s high school diploma were among the items recovered.

Mickolick said she posted a photo on Facebook of debris hanging from trees above her home and joked that it was this year’s family Christmas tree. Despite the devastation, she occasionally laughed with neighbors. “What else are you going to do?” she asked.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or

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