1 dead in explosion in Ballantyne that levels million-dollar house, NC authorities say

An explosion destroyed a south Charlotte house Tuesday afternoon, authorities said, and left one person dead and another with life-threatening injuries.

Shortly after 10 p.m., Matt Westover of the Charlotte Fire Department confirmed that a female in the house was found dead at around 9 p.m. He said he did not think there were additional victims.

A man who called 911 saying he was trapped in the home was flown by Medic helicopter to an area hospital with life-threatening injuries, a Charlotte fire official said at the scene in the Ballantyne Country Club neighborhood at 4:45 p.m.

The woman who was killed was identified as 58-year-old Rania Karam in a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police report. She owned the home on James Jack Lane, records show. Her husband, Dr. Jebran Karam, 59, was identified as the 911 caller who was also in the house at the time of the explosion, police officials said.

At least two other people from surrounding homes also were hurt.

Authorities did not provide any details about a possible cause for the explosion. Piedmont Natural Gas officials said crews have turned off gas to the home and they were working to turn off gas to all homes on the street, Charlotte Observer news partner WBTV reported.

The rescued man was “alert” when he called 911 from the rubble, the fire official said. The man was in the rubble for nearly three hours before he was found and rescued, according to the official.

At a 6:30 p.m. news conference, a fire official said the search for possible victims would continue through the night if necessary but declined to say if rescuers believe anyone else was trapped in the rubble.

Fire officials tweeted they were using special listening equipment and confined space cameras during their search efforts. A no-fly zone was established to reduce noise in the area.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police confirmed the address of the house in the 11000 block of James Jack Lane, which was last sold for $1.27 million in 2015, county records show. The two-story house has an assessed value of $1.25 million, and covers 8,830 square feet, which includes 6,327 square feet of finished space, records show.

Charlotte Fire Department Battalion Chief Matt Westover said there also was significant damage to surrounding homes.

Earlier, Medic reported it was evaluating two patients from nearby homes for non life-threatening injuries.

More than 80 firefighters were at the scene of the four-alarm fire, Westover said. He said heat and humidity were taking a toll on the workers at the site. The temperature stood at 91 degrees in Charlotte when the house exploded and climbed to 94 degrees by 4 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.

Seven firefighters were treated with IVs at the scene for dehydration and then returned to duty, while another firefighter was taken to a hospital for treatment of dehydration, fire officials tweeted about 8:30 p.m. The hospital treatment was classified as “non-emergency,” according to the tweet.

The explosion at around 2 p.m. released a plume of thick black smoke. The force of the explosion could be felt in Ballantyne Corporate Park and surrounding neighborhoods.

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Mecklenburg EMS and Charlotte Fire Department during rescue operations at Ballantyne home Mecklenburg EMS

The home backs up to the Ballantyne Country Club golf course, off Ballantyne Commons Parkway.

Neighbors in shock

Lori Campe, 50, was home with her kids on James Jack Lane when their next door neighbor’s house exploded. She said she didn’t know what happened and was shocked to find her neighbors’ home “gone” when she walked outside.

A couple lived in the house for about four years, Campe said. She described them as excellent neighbors who were involved in the community. They didn’t have children who lived with them, she said.

No one in Campe’s family was hurt, she said, but their home and garage were damaged. She said they expect to be displaced for some time but are glad to be alive.

Paul Aarons’ backyard backs up to Jockeys Ridge Drive, which is just around the corner from the explosion. Aarons was in his kitchen when he heard a massive boom and the entire house shook, he said.

The boom felt so close that he assumed someone had run a car into his garage. He hurried outside and was surprised to find no damage anywhere.

“It must have been a massive explosion,” he said. “I hope no one was home.”

A chaotic scene

Neighbors immediately took to social media to report hearing the explosion and asking for information.

Many reported a chaotic scene of fire trucks, police cars and ambulances flooding neighborhood streets, as helicopters buzzed overhead. Roads into the community were quickly blocked and detours put in place, as emergency responders asked people to avoid the immediate area.

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Mecklenburg EMS and Charlotte Fire Department during rescue operations at Ballantyne home Mecklenburg EMS

Some described the explosion on social media as feeling like an earthquake, while others wondered if there had been an “underground explosion.”

Neighbors tweeted that homes shook in the area. Office workers a couple miles away in Ballantyne Corporate Place said they could feel the shaking as high as the fifth floor.

One person said he was at work in Ballantyne Village “and my whole chair shook and the doors flew open.”

“Explosion in Ballantyne just shook my building,” Chad Clark tweeted. “I can see smoke in the distance.”

“Felt our whole building shake in #ballantyne #charlottenc,” tweeted Erica Garcia Thomas. “What is going on?”


A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the name of a neighbor of the house that exploded in Ballantyne. The neighbor's name is Lori Campe.
Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.