Faulty furnace might have caused explosion at Indianapolis home, owner says

Man's ex-wife, daughter live at home

INDIANAPOLIS - The former owner of a house that exploded in Indianapolis said he wonders if a faulty furnace might have been to blame for the blast that killed two people and destroyed or damaged dozens of homes.

Jennifer Longworth, a teacher at Southwest Elementary School, and her husband, John Dion Longworth, died Saturday night after an explosion at a neighboring home in the 8400 block of Fieldfare Way in the Richmond Hill subdivision, near Sherman Drive between County Line Road and Stop 11 Road, teachers and the school's secretary said.

John Shirley told RTV6 on Monday that he received a text message last week from his 12-year-old daughter about a problem with the furnace at the house the girl shares with her mother and her mother's boyfriend.

The girl said that the family was staying in a hotel because the furnace had stopped working. Shirley said no one was home at the time of the explosion.

"I suspect the problem was with the furnace because I know I had couple of issues with the furnace," he told RTV6. "The house isn't old, probably done in 2003 or 2004. I had issues with the cooling and heating."

Citizens Energy spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple said a homeowner with a furnace issue or a contractor that repaired a furnace would not be expected to report it to the utility company.

"We're not in the business of repairing furnaces," Holsapple said. "We did not no receive a call from this resident that they had a faulty furnace."


Jim Roundtree, a field manager for York's Quality Air and an expert in heating and cooling, said he's seen the images from the south side explosion, and he has his doubts that a faulty furnace could have caused that level of destruction.

"It's possible, but very unlikely," he said.

Roundtree said there would have been definite signs of a leak including an odor so strong it could be smelled outside, and a technician could locate a leak with an electronic meter or a soap bubble test. He also said there are safety features built into furnaces to prevent gas buildups from happening. 

"To get enough gas into your home to cause an explosion, it'd have to be a very severe incident," he said.

Authorities have not said what they believe caused the explosion, although Mayor Greg Ballard said investigators had ruled out a bomb, a methamphetamine lab and an airplane crash.

Investigators said it could take weeks to find out what caused the explosion.

Shirley said he knew neighbors Jennifer and John Longworth well, and that John Longworth kept a meticulous lawn and garden.

"He grew some of the most beautiful wildflowers I've ever seen. It was incredible," Shirley said.

Shirley's ex-wife, Monserrate Shirley, declined to comment Monday.

Indiana real estate records show the house had been for sale for a year until it was taken off the market in March.

Eight people were injured in the blast and ensuing fire, which displaced at least 200 people.

Watch RTV6 and refresh this page for updates.

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