Home Explodes After Thief Nabs Copper Pipes

(The Des Moines Register, August 30, 2007)
Posted at 03:52PM Aug 30, 2007

A thief who stripped copper tubing from an exterior propane tank is being blamed for a gas build-up resulting in an explosion that severely burned an 80-year-old Onawa, Iowa, man.

Earl Thelander suffered third-degree burns on nearly half of his body after his home exploded Tuesday. The explosion was the result of the copper tubing that led to the furnace being cut by “urban miners” who steal the tubing and recycle it for cash.

The copper stolen from the Thelander home was valued at about $15. Copper prices have skyrocketed in the past few years due to increasing global demand, resulting in rising theft rates.

“It’s one thing to steal copper water pipes,” said Onawa Mayor Rebecca Tanner. “But to steal copper gas pipes is beyond comprehension. This caused a tremendous explosion. Everyone knows how dangerous gas can be.”

The explosion blew out one wall and bowed another, but Thelander walked out of the blast and drove himself to the hospital. He was later transferred to a special burn unit in Omaha, Neb., where he remains in critical condition.

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