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Mother of blast victim says pilot light was ignited before explosion

Just before a north Charlotte home explosion killed a 4-month-old baby last week, a maintenance worker had ignited the pilot light under a water heater, the child's mother told Observer news partner WCNC-TV.

Courtney Chambers suffered burns and other injuries when she and her fiance, Syl'Myles Demecio Coleman, were thrown into the front yard as the one-story brick house at 410 Wellingford Road exploded.

Chambers, 22, was released from the hospital Wednesday. Coleman, 25, was in surgery for skin grafts to treat his burns late in the afternoon, his mother, Sylvia Coleman, told the Observer. Her granddaughter, Synora, will be buried today at a graveside service in Jefferson, S.C.

Sylvia Coleman had just moved to the rental house with her granddaughter, son and his fiancee last week. They'd paid a gas deposit and were waiting for Piedmont Natural Gas to turn on their service, she said.

Coleman said that about 4 p.m. she smelled gas inside and outside the house. She left for work shortly after, without reporting it.

About 6 p.m., a neighbor called 911 from 442 Wellingford – a house seven doors down – to report a gas smell. Charlotte firefighters responded and used a handheld detection meter to check for gas fumes. None was detected, and firefighters left in seven or eight minutes.

The fire department declined to explain – until the investigation is complete – how the detectors work and what range they have to detect gas.

Chambers told WCNC that the maintenance man came to the home around 6 that evening and had been working on the gas-powered water heater, which was in a laundry room in the back of the 900-square-foot house. She said he ignited the pilot light before leaving around 7:30.

Just after the maintenance man left, Chambers told WCNC that she saw “a red glow” beneath the door of the laundry room.

The house exploded about 7:45 p.m. as the couple played with their baby on a couch in the living room, Sylvia Coleman said.

“Synora was this beautiful baby that God had given us … and we had to give her back,” she said. “Some things are unexplainable.”

The couple was thrown from the front room into the yard, where they were helped by the same firefighters who'd been at 442 Wellingford 90 minutes before.

“With faith, therapy and God, we'll eventually get to the other side,” Coleman said. “We have to learn from this because lives were spared … even mine.”

The fire department declined to comment on the explosion, saying investigators are still determining the cause.

Piedmont Natural Gas also declined to discuss details about the explosion, including whether gas service had been turned on at the home.

Company spokesman David Trusty said the company had not been called to the neighborhood that day until after the explosion.

Since the explosion, the company has restored service to the neighborhood after checking gas lines for leaks. Trusty said he wasn't aware of any problems found.

The house is owned by Edward Clay, who owns numerous properties in Mecklenburg County. He did not respond to the Observer's request for an interview. Sylvia Coleman said they rented the house after a referral from a friend.

She was unsure Wednesday whether Chambers, who works at a Pineville McDonald's restaurant, or her son, who is unemployed, have insurance. She said the two fell in love at first sight and have been together about three years. They plan to get married next year.

Church friends have offered support.

Others in the community surrounded a cross at the destroyed home site with stuffed animals and candles as a memorial to the baby.

Synora's death marks the second fatal fire in Charlotte this year. Constance Frances Roddey, 49, died in February at a west Charlotte hotel in a fire that was caused by a cigarette.

Just before a north Charlotte home explosion killed a 4-month-old baby last week, a maintenance worker had ignited the pilot light under a water heater, the child's mother told Observer news partner WCNC-TV.

Courtney Chambers suffered burns and other injuries when she and her fiance, Syl'Myles Demecio Coleman, were thrown into the front yard as the one-story brick house at 410 Wellingford Road exploded.

Chambers, 22, was released from the hospital Wednesday. Coleman, 25, was in surgery for skin grafts to treat his burns late in the afternoon, his mother, Sylvia Coleman, told the Observer. Her granddaughter, Synora, will be buried today at a graveside service in Jefferson, S.C.

Sylvia Coleman had just moved to the rental house with her granddaughter, son and his fiancee last week. They'd paid a gas deposit and were waiting for Piedmont Natural Gas to turn on their service, she said.

Coleman said that about 4 p.m. she smelled gas inside and outside the house. She left for work shortly after, without reporting it.

About 6 p.m., a neighbor called 911 from 442 Wellingford – a house seven doors down – to report a gas smell. Charlotte firefighters responded and used a handheld detection meter to check for gas fumes. None was detected, and firefighters left in seven or eight minutes.

The fire department declined to explain – until the investigation is complete – how the detectors work and what range they have to detect gas.

Chambers told WCNC that the maintenance man came to the home around 6 that evening and had been working on the gas-powered water heater, which was in a laundry room in the back of the 900-square-foot house. She said he ignited the pilot light before leaving around 7:30.

Just after the maintenance man left, Chambers told WCNC that she saw “a red glow” beneath the door of the laundry room.

The house exploded about 7:45 p.m. as the couple played with their baby on a couch in the living room, Sylvia Coleman said.

“Synora was this beautiful baby that God had given us … and we had to give her back,” she said. “Some things are unexplainable.”

The couple was thrown from the front room into the yard, where they were helped by the same firefighters who'd been at 442 Wellingford 90 minutes before.

“With faith, therapy and God, we'll eventually get to the other side,” Coleman said. “We have to learn from this because lives were spared … even mine.”

The fire department declined to comment on the explosion, saying investigators are still determining the cause.

Piedmont Natural Gas also declined to discuss details about the explosion, including whether gas service had been turned on at the home.

Company spokesman David Trusty said the company had not been called to the neighborhood that day until after the explosion.

Since the explosion, the company has restored service to the neighborhood after checking gas lines for leaks. Trusty said he wasn't aware of any problems found.

The house is owned by Edward Clay, who owns numerous properties in Mecklenburg County. He did not respond to the Observer's request for an interview. Sylvia Coleman said they rented the house after a referral from a friend.

She was unsure Wednesday whether Chambers, who works at a Pineville McDonald's restaurant, or her son, who is unemployed, have insurance. She said the two fell in love at first sight and have been together about three years. They plan to get married next year.

Church friends have offered support.

Others in the community surrounded a cross at the destroyed home site with stuffed animals and candles as a memorial to the baby.

Synora's death marks the second fatal fire in Charlotte this year. Constance Frances Roddey, 49, died in February at a west Charlotte hotel in a fire that was caused by a cigarette.

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