Iowa Man Burned in Explosion

Propane fueled blast

August 30, 2007

Earl ThelanderAn Onawa, Iowa man is hospitalized in Omaha in critical condition after suffering burns in an explosion on Tuesday.

Eighty-year-old Earl Thelander was injured in the basement of a vacant house he owns in rural Onawa, about an hour north of the metro area.

“If he has two enemies in the world it would surprise me, says Doug Thelander, Earl’s son.

“Always seemed to help neighbors who’d call on him when he’s needed, said Eddie Wagner, who runs the local hardware store. “Didn’t seem to matter if it was day or night, just whenever he’s needed, just like a good neighbor.”

Thieves had broken in earlier on Tuesday, first stealing copper water lines, then the gas line. The house filled with propane gas. Police arrived, the gas was shut off and the windows opened.

A few hours later, Thelander, a longtime plumber who was renovating the house, no longer smelled gas, turned on a fan to air out the structure. That ignited a pocket of gas that remained.

The blast threw Earl across the basement. “He was right at the center of the explosion and actually walked out through the fire to get outside the house,” said Monona County Sheriff Jeff Pratt.

Earl drove himself to the hospital in Onawa with third-degree burns on 40% of his body. He was later transferred to the Nebraska Medical Center.

“It’s senseless,” says Doug Thelander. “People stealing copper out of these houses for $20 worth of copper. We’ve got a man fighting for his life. This is a man that’s worked in the heating and air conditioning trade all his life. It isn’t like he was some old guy fumbling around.”

“I’m pretty sure he was careful when he was doing it,” says Wagner. “It’s just one of the things that happens.”

Sheriff Pratt says anyone with information concerning this incident should call the Monona County Sheriff’s Department at 1-800-859-1414. The calls are confidential. The sheriff also wants area salvage yards to beware of those selling copper and report any suspicious activity.


Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.

Posted by: Rev. Keith on Sep 1, 2007 at 04:21 PM
The thoughts and prayers of Earl’s son’s church in Clovis, California are with the entire Thelander family as we hope and pray that Earl survives this tragedy and is stable enough to undergo the necessary surgery he needs.

Posted by: Vladamir on Aug 30, 2007 at 09:00 AM
This is some horrific news especially this explosion was likely caused by some idiotic meth users stripping the copper and alumimum piping in the house. Absolutely tragic.

Posted by: Brenda on Aug 29, 2007 at 10:12 PM
This is absolutely terrible! My heart goes out to this poor mans family. I offer nothing but the best, and my prayers for a fast recovery.

Posted by: Lori on Aug 29, 2007 at 06:30 PM
Earl is my stepfather, and our whole extended family is devastated by this tradgedy. To think someone is fighting for their life because of copper theft is almost more than we all can bear. I hope that we can find the person, or people who is responsible for this, and they are brought to justice. I ask for prayers for my “Father”, and hope that he he can recover from this. He is a strong man, and has the fight in him, and his family needs him like we need the air that we breath. God speed his recovery.

Posted by: Amy on Aug 29, 2007 at 03:26 PM
I sure hope that who ever stole this little bit of copper sleeps good at night. If this was my father I would want you hunted like an animal. My prayers go out to Mr. Thelander and pray for a speedy recovery.

Posted by: J.K. Lyons on Aug 29, 2007 at 02:57 PM
You will be in the thoughts and prayers of my family. Get well soon. When is enough going to be enough? You people that spend all day scamming and what ever else you do, if you put that much effort into getting clean and getting a job you would not need to carry out these crimes. Stop and tell your self it is a stupid drug. And I’m stupid for doing it. As for the rest of us stop being scared and start turning theses people in. Who care if it is someone you know. Turn them in so they can get help. And stop turning a blind eye.

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