Crime & Courts

Natural gas built up in Ballantyne home while couple vacationed, fire department says

The Charlotte Fire Investigation Task Force has confirmed its initial conclusion about the cause of a house explosion in Ballantyne in early July, the fire department announced.

Natural gas was accumulating in the house for “several days” prior to the July 2 explosion, the task force found. Homeowners Rania and Jebran Karam were on vacation during that time.

“The residence was most likely saturated with natural gas, which ignited within a few minutes of the occupants entering the residence,” the task force wrote.

The resulting explosion killed Rania Karam, 58, and seriously injured her husband, a 59-year-old cardiologist who called for help on his smartwatch and was airlifted to a hospital.

It also caused about $5 million in damages to the house and neighboring homes on James Jack Lane, near Ballantyne Country Club, according to the fire department.

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The house was “secured” during the time the Karams were on vacation, fire investigators found, and the explosion has been labeled accidental.

Fire investigators were unable to find the ignition source or the specific cause of the leak in the destroyed home, according to the task force’s statement.

An outside investigation is ongoing and is expected to take months, according to the fire department. Insurance carriers and specialized engineers will do forensic testing and examinations of the house’s natural gas equipment as part of that investigation.

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Jane Wester is a Charlotte native and has been covering criminal justice and public safety for The Charlotte Observer since May 2017.