Tag Archives: Propane Explosion

Home Explodes After Thief Nabs Copper Pipes – DTN Blogs

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.

© 2007 DTN Blogs

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Copper theft results in explosion, injuries

Omaha World Herald Logo


Copper theft results in explosion, injuries

Published Thursday | August 30, 2007


An 80-year-old Onawa, Iowa, man remained in critical condition Thursday with burns suffered in an explosion that occurred after metal thieves stealing copper pipes cut a propane line in the basement of a house he owned.

copper pipingEarl Thelander was hospitalized at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha with second- and third-degree burns suffered in the blast.

“Realistically, looking at his age and severity of the injuries, this is just a tough, tough fight,” said his son Doug Thelander. “A good man is going through a lot of pain for nothing.”

Thieves seeking a quick buck from rising scrap metal prices have been stealing copper wire and pipe from abandoned homes, buildings under construction, churches and vehicles all summer.

On Tuesday, they hit the empty house owned by Earl Thelander, which he was preparing to sell. Thelander went to the house after learning that the thieves had removed copper tubing water lines and tried to steal the copper propane line.

“They cut it a foot above the furnace,” Doug Thelander said. “Why would they do that? They could have turned the gas off.”

The damaged line caused propane to leak into the basement, and authorities said Thelander triggered the explosion when he plugged in an electric fan to air out the basement.

Doug Thelander said his father used to be in the heating and air conditioning business and wasn’t “an old guy puttering around in the basement.”

He said he talked to his dad just before he was transported to Omaha.

“He said, ‘Doug, I didn’t smell anything.'”

Before Thelander entered the home, police and sheriff’s officials had already been in the house to investigate.

“We never should have been in there,” said Onawa Assistant Police Chief Joe Farrens. “The fumes were really strong.”

Authorities said the house suffered considerable structural damage. The case remains under investigation, but authorities didn’t have any leads as of Thursday.

Doug Thelander praised law enforcement for their efforts.

“I appreciate all that is being done,” he said. “We’ll do anything in our power to find out who is responsible for this.”

Metal has been a popular target for thieves trying to take advantage of scrap prices.

In June, someone took copper pipes from Omaha’s Shiloh Baptist Church, disabling its air conditioners. About a week earlier, several Omaha Public Schools vans were damaged when catalytic converters were taken for their platinum.

While metal theft in western Douglas County appears to have slowed, authorities said, western Iowa hasn’t been as lucky.

In Pottawattamie County, rural areas are seeing more metal thefts, said Sheriff Jeff Danker.

Thieves have taken wire from cell phone towers, metal from along railroad tracks, air conditioners and even parts of center pivot irrigation systems on farms.

“They’ll steal anything they can get. If there’s nobody around, people aren’t going to see the theft,” Danker said.

Danker said businesses should consider using fences and cameras to better protect property. Individuals, he said, should try to keep their property where they can see it and where potential thieves can’t.

“Keep them from seeing it from the road,” he said.

Copyright 2007 Omaha World Herald

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the Monona County Sheriff’s Office at 800-859-1414.

More articles on Earl Thelander death

Iowa Man Burned in Explosion


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.

Copyright © 2007 WOWT

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Onawa man hurt in explosion dies in Omaha – SCJ

Sioux City Journal logo


Onawa man hurt in explosion dies in Omaha


September 3, 2007
ONAWA, Iowa — The man hurt in a home explosion last week died Saturday in Omaha.

Earl Thelander, 80, died at Clarkson Hospital in Omaha. Funeral services will take place at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at First Christian Church in Onawa. Burial will be at a later date.

Thelander was hospitalized Tuesday with burn injuries after an explosion damaged an unoccupied home he owns in rural Onawa. The explosion happened in the basement at 20877 Gum Ave., where Thelander had just plugged in a fan to help vent fumes from a propane line that had been cut in an alleged burglary earlier Tuesday, the Monona County Sheriff’s Office reported.

After the explosion, Thelander drove about two miles to his home, where he then was taken to Burgess Health Center in Onawa. He was then was airlifted to an Omaha burn unit, where medical personnel treated second-degree burns over 40 percent of his body.

Authorities said they believe the explosion is connected to a cut propane line on a furnace in the basement. The sheriff’s office had been called to the home Tuesday morning on a report of burglary and vandalism, but when deputies arrived, no one was there.

The burglar broke a door to get into the home and removed copper water lines before attempting to take the copper propane line, the sheriff’s office reported. Thelander owns the home, which was vacant, neighbors said.


Journal Comments

Phyllis Brus wrote on Sep 3, 2007 6:55 PM:
“My feeling is if this vandal is found he should be tried for manslauter at the very least.”

~~Tragic~~ wrote on Sep 3, 2007 5:24 PM:
“How tragic. Chances are the person responsible for this tragedy doesn’t read the newspaper. But if by chance they do; you should be ashamed of yourself. You stole things that weren’t yours and then took this man’s life; all over a couple bucks!? Hopefully this family can grieve and find peace; knowing the “big guy” knows who you are.”

Anyone with information about the crime is urged to call the Monona County Sheriff’s Office at (712) 423-2525.

© Copyright 2007, Sioux City Journal

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