Gas bottle to blame for fatal Ballina fire

The unit block at Owen Street, Ballina, in flames after Friday night's explosion.
The unit block at Owen Street, Ballina, in flames after Friday night's explosion. Naomi Whitney

A NINE kilogram gas bottle was the source of an explosion that left a 47-year-old dead and many others homeless at a Ballina unit block on Friday night.

Emergency services rushed to the scene about 7.30pm but firefighters were unable to save the 1950s building on Ballina's Owen St, opposite Kingsford Smith Park.

After extinguishing the blaze, firefighters found the body of 47-year-old Michael Richard Karel near the back door of his ground-floor apartment.

Neighbours said the man bought the unit only recently, moving from Sydney about four weeks ago.


By Sunday afternoon police had finished their forensic investigation and concluded the likely cause of the explosion was the ignition of a 9kg gas bottle, Inspector Nicole Bruce said.

What may have caused the gas bottled to ignite was undetermined, Insp Bruce said, but foul play had been ruled out.

What we heard was like a bomb

- Neighbour Julie Panshon

The matter will now be investigated by the NSW Coroner, she said.

The blaze left the building a wreck with police deeming it "structurally unsound" as well as riddled with exposed asbestos. Its residents have been left homeless.

Insp Bruce said the Ballina council was expected to inspect the property today about a demolition order.

Neighbour Julie Panshon described sitting in the back garden when the explosion struck the block next door.

"What we heard was like a bomb," Ms Panshon said.

"The middle unit had just exploded... it took hold so quickly," she said.

The unit block at Owen Street, Ballina, after a gas bottle exploded in a downstairs unit.
The unit block at Owen Street, Ballina, after a gas bottle exploded in a downstairs unit.

"It's a pretty devastating thing to know there was someone in there who died... and others who've lost everything."

Nearby residents Steven Clifford and Sally Wooderson live almost 100m away but the explosion rocked their windows so hard they thought someone was banging on them.

Before rushing outside, they heard the block of units' windows "popping and cracking" as people gathered in the street.

"Power lines were just zapping and going everywhere," Ms Wooderson said.

"The street just flooded with people and then they (emergency services) blocked the street off," she said.

A Ballina resident looks onto what remains of his neighbours house after an explosion and fire at Owen St.
A Ballina resident looks onto what remains of his neighbours house after an explosion and fire at Owen St. Nolan Verheij-Full

Another neighbour, John Pearson, who lived in nearby Burnet St, recalled picking up a garden hose in an attempt to extinguish the flames.

"All the windows were blown up; the flames were already everywhere," Mr Pearson said.

"You couldn't get near it the heat was so intense," he said.

The street was blocked off with emergency personnel, and power was cut to the surrounding area as far away as East Ballina.

Topics:  ballina explosion, house fire

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