HARRISON – A 34-year-old Harrison woman is in critical condition after her home was destroyed late Sunday morning by an apparent propane explosion.
Laura Lee Sheehan was transported by ambulance from the scene to Harrison Public School where she was taken via helicopter to Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and later transferred to the University of Utah Burn Care Center in Salt Lake City.
Neighbors who witnessed the explosion said the blast lifted the house 20 some feet in the air, a scene that Harrison resident Donald King could only as “heartstopping.”
“It was just horrendous,” King said.
“I was looking at the front part of the house, trying to find Laura Lee, and another guy come running up out of nowhere, and he got to the back side of the house and spotted her movement,” he continued. “I just ran on across all the debris and stuff over there, and we were trying to get this big heavy wall part off of her, and she was pinned up under all this rubble and debris.”
“It’s a miracle that she’s alive,” King said. “That’s all I can think.”
Immediately after the explosion King, who lives across the street, rushed to call 911 before going into the rubble to look for Sheehan while neighbor Bob Terry hurried to extinguish the ensuing flames with a garden hose before the Madison Valley Rural Fire Department and Harrison Volunteer Fire Department could arrive. Debris from the explosion stacked up against the nearest structure to the west and the fire threatened to cause further damage.
“If it would have caught that house and that propane tank would have went, it would have been a chain reaction all the way down,” Terry said of the row of small homes extending down Madison Street.
Neighbors worked Monday morning to clean what debris they could from the street, avoiding the cautionary tape around the scene of the blast until representatives from an insurance company could arrive on Tuesday to investigate.
According to neighbors and close friends in contact with Sheehan’s family, she suffered a broken pelvis, broken leg, multiple broken ribs and burns over 70 percent of her body.
Donations to help Sheehan recover are being accepted at the Pony Bar, where Sheehan worked as a bartender, as well as Boxer’s Club 30 in Belgrade. People can also donate over the Internet by visiting http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/lauraleesheehan.
Both Terry and King humbly declined credit for their heroic actions in the moments following the blast, saying they just reacted the way anyone else would.
“I don’t know if it was instinct or what, I just sprung into action,” said King. “She’s a human being, and my heart went out to her.”
“It’s our neighbor,” Terry said. “You do unto others as they would do unto you.”
“If my house blew up, I would want someone to help me,” he continued. “You start thinking about what would someone do for you.”
According to Madison County Director of Emergency Management Chris Mumme, Northern Energy responded to the scene to check out the propane site. Katie Beck of Northern Energy’s office in Ennis declined comment when contacted on Tuesday morning.
If a person suspects a gas leak, they should immediately evacuate the area and call their local propane provider or the fire department from a neighbor’s phone, according to a link on Northern Energy’s website to a safety learning module developed by the Propane Education and Research Council. For more information on safety protocol for a potential propane leak, visit http://www.usepropane.com/safe-source-of-energy/.