Tahlequah Daily Press

February 5, 2013

911 call logs reveal residents’ fears in wake of explosion

By JOSH NEWTON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Recordings of the 911 calls made after a house explosion in Briggs Saturday evening reveal the initial confusion about what had actually happened.

Several callers phoned in after the explosion shook their homes along State Highway 51 east of Tahlequah, near TNT Grocery. Most weren’t sure what had happened, but believed something might have exploded nearby.

The first call to Cherokee County 911 dispatchers was made at 7:03 p.m., and several more followed.

“There was an explosion,” one woman said. “It was across from where we live. We could see it from here, it shook the whole house. ... I don’t know if it was a car wreck, if it was a house. ... It was really, really loud, though.”

Other callers explained a house had exploded.

“I don’t know, I just heard an explosion, and we’re worried,” one woman told dispatchers. “We think maybe a house or something exploded across the highway. Something strange is going on!”

Another woman told dispatchers a man was buried beneath the destruction and was yelling for help.

“There’s a gentleman buried or something, he’s probably going to need an ambulance,” a woman told 911 dispatchers. “He’s saying, ‘Help me! Help me!’ We can hear him. It’s right across from TNT. ... He’s underneath the house. He’s probably going to need an ambulance.”

Welling firefighters were dispatched to the area at 7:05 p.m. According to Cherokee County Undersheriff Jason Chennault, 50-year-old Jeff Saddler was pulled from the rubble of the home after what investigators believe was a propane explosion. Saddler suffered critical injuries and was flown to a Tulsa hospital Saturday evening.

The last report local authorities had was that Saddler was still listed as “very critical.”

Chennault said Saddler was home alone when the explosion occurred. The blast could be heard several miles away, and sent debris in all directions.

“From what we have seen so far, it appears to have been a propane explosion,” said Chennault. “The house is a total loss.”

Investigators arrived early Sunday morning to survey the damage. They believe the explosion was caused by a buildup of propane beneath the house. Chennault said a gas cook stove had been installed in the home prior to the incident, and Saddler was cooking when the explosion occurred.

A propane tank had also recently been installed, authorities at the scene said Sunday.

“We’re not sure if [the cook stove] was the origin, but the investigators tell us it looks like it was an explosion from a low point in the house,” said Chennault.

Part of the initial confusion about whether the home had exploded likely stemmed from the lack of fire at the scene, though residents in the Briggs area did report seeing a ball of fire shoot into the sky when the explosion occurred.

“It blew everything up and out,” said Chennault.

Chennault said Saddler had only been living in the home for about a week.

Pieces of the home’s roof, clothing, and other items were scattered in nearby trees. A door of the home was blown across S.H. 51.

Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers had to shut down the highway Saturday evening as first responders arrived at the scene, and debris had to be moved out of the road before traffic was allowed through the area.