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Gas smell precedes house explosion, fires, evacuations in Willowbrook

An American Red Cross worker stands by as people are evacuated from their homes following a possible gas leak and home explosion in west suburban Willowbrook. | American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

A gas leak in the sewer system in west suburban Willowbrook may have led to a house explosion that left one person injured, and there are reports of other fires in the same subdivision.

Willowbrook police posted a notice to residents early Friday about a gas smell in the Knolls Condominium Complex on Knoll Wood Road. It said police and the Tri-State Fire Protection District were investigating the smell, which “appears to be related to the storm and sanitary sewers.”

About 9 a.m., the explosion was reported in a condominium complex in the 6100 block of Knollwood Road, according to Willowbrook Police Chief Robert Pavelchik.

One person was injured, Pavelchik said. “Multiple agencies are searching for the cause of the blast, which appears to be a flammable substance in the sanitary sewer lines.”

Fires were reported nearby in the 300 block of 63rd Street, 6200 block of Bentley Avenue, and the 300 block of Coralynn Court.

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois tweeted that it was responding to an explosion and “multiple fires” in Willowbrook, helping residents who have been evacuated by providing them with food and water.

The gas leak may have started at a gas station in a nearby village.

Darien police tweeted: “Petroleum gas leak in Willowbrook … Gas fumes and a couple of house explosions in Willowbrook, Darien not affected.”

The City of Darien later tweeted: “Petroleum gas leak at Speedway on 63rd in Willowbrook. Gas fumes and a couple of house explosions in Willowbrook.”

In a community alert on its Facebook page, the Village of Westmont posted: “A gasoline leak has been identified and found present in the Flagg Creek Sanitary District sewer system in the southern part of Westmont from 59th Street to Chestnut in Darien, and from Williams to Route 83. If residents and/or businesses in this area smell gasoline, please call 911 immediately.”

Emergency vehicles have been around the Speedway most of the afternoon, and blockades have been set up to keep customers out.

Flagg Creek is the same sewer district that serves Willowbrook.

It also serves part of Darien, and the city placed this warning on its Facebook page: “There has been a petroleum gas leak at Speedway Gas Station on Cass Avenue north of 63rd Street in Westmont, causing gas fumes and several house explosions in Willowbrook. 53 homes in Darien are on the Flagg Creek sewer system, and they have been notified. All other Darien residences are are on the DuPage County Sanitary System and are not affected.

“If you are one of the residences on the Flagg Creek Sanitary System, DO NOT TURN ON ANY ELECTRONIC DEVICE OR NATURAL GAS COMPONENT. IF YOU SMELL GASOLINE FUMES EXIT YOUR HOME AND CALL 9-1-1.”

A resident posted on Facebook: “Wasn’t my building, but just a little too close for comfort. The Fire Dept. has been there since yesterday, they never evacuated us, but I took everything of any importance with me before leaving for work this morning. I’ve been told my building is not in any danger, but the smell of gas is super strong…”

The Indian Prairie Library in Darien will serve as a shelter for evacuees this evening: “Need somewhere to go for water, restroom, or power in Willowbrook due to the local explosions? The library is open until 9 p.m. and here to help,” the library tweeted.