CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A Ballantyne home explosion that left a woman dead and her husband injured in early July has been ruled accidental by fire investigators.
The explosion, caused by an interior gas leak, happened before 2 p.m. July 2 at a home on James Jack Lane in Ballantyne Country Club. Charlotte firefighters say Dr. Jabran Karam and his wife, 58-year-old Rania Karam, were returning home from a vacation and the explosion ignited withing a few minutes of them walking inside.
Fire investigators determined there was a significant rise in natural gas several days prior to the couple returning home and that the home was “most likely saturated with natural gas.” Jabran Karam, who was found alert after the explosion, did tell first responders that he smelled gas.
Rania Karam was found dead hours after the explosion amid the rubble.
Jabran Karam was was able to call 911 from the underneath wreckage using his Apple Watch and gave crews information that led to his location.
“I know when we were in there at one point I could see shelves and I knew then we were digging through what used to be part of a closet,” Captain Michael said in a sit-down interview with WBTV. “But nothing was what it had once been. The survivor was on the phone with communications trying to give directions from what I understand, but it was also hard because nothing was what it had once been.”
Jabran Karam was airlifted to the hospital. Officials said he was alert and conscious when he was freed from the rubble.
It took nearly seven hours to find Rania Karam.
“It was a difficult process to locate her,” Charlotte Fire Department Battalion Chief Matt Westover said. “With the information we’ve been provided we are confident that we have retrieved all those that were involved in the incident.”
Soon after the explosion, multiple people reported debris striking surrounding homes.
Flames and smoke could be seen coming from the rubble and debris littered the area. Damage could be seen on the roofs of nearby homes.
“The whole house shook. Everything shook. The desk shook, the T.V. shook - I almost thought for a second it was an earthquake, or a car crashed into my house or a tree fell on my house,” one neighbor said. “We go outside, and everyone else is coming out of their houses, too, and they think the same thing we did - everyone thought a tree fell on their house."
“I am working literally across the golf course from the explosion, sounded like a bomb, shook the whole neighborhood,” said James Lyda Jr. "I honestly thought someone had fired a cannon for the Fourth - a really BIG cannon. But I lost my footing from the shockwave.”
The boom could reportedly be heard and felt almost five miles away.
More than 80 firefighters from multiple agencies responded to the scene. Piedmont Natural Gas officials said they were at the scene as well and working directly with Charlotte firefighters. Officials also determined that the pipelines in that area are operating.
Homeowners in the area left their property and were told they may not be able to move back in for another 8-12 months.
Fire investigators have not yet determined a specific cause for the gas leak nor identified a specific ignition source. Investigators say the process for determining the cause could take “many months.”