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Gasoline fumes likely caused weekend apartment explosion

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INDIANAPOLIS – Arson investigators believe fumes from a gasoline container likely caused the sudden explosion that drove 16 people from a southeast side apartment building Saturday night.

The blast at the Rowney Terrace Apartments destroyed the two-story unit at the center of it, and knocked items off shelves throughout the building, according to witnesses. Windows on the first and second floor were blown out, and the brick wall facade was broken and buckled outward.

Early damage estimates were around $100,000.

“I was scared at first,” said Mecca Smith, who lives in the building next door. “There was an explosion and fire and everything going on over here.”

A search of the unit turned up a strong smell of gasoline and parts of a gas container, according to a police report. Investigators were working Monday afternoon to determine if the gas can was left as part of a deliberate act or an accident.

Nobody was in the unit that exploded when fire crews arrived. Neighbors who know the man who lives there with his children say they haven’t been in the unit for the last couple weeks.

“I was just happy to know that there was nobody home at the time,” said a neighbor who didn’t want to be identified.

Detectives didn’t say whether they’d made contact with the apartment renter Monday afternoon, but they said they were interviewing people in connection with the blast.

One woman who lives in the building described a very loud boom, along with items in her apartment shaking.

Another woman who lives several houses down Rowney Street said the explosion shook her windows. The explosion and resulting fire left the four-unit building unlivable for the time being. Signs declaring the building unsafe were posted on every door.

Late Monday afternoon, some families were escorted into the building to retrieve clothing and personal items. An Indianapolis Housing Authority worker said engineers would have to inspect the building to determine if it could be restored or if it would be torn down.

The Indianapolis Fire Department and Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department are asking anyone with information about the blast to call Crimestoppers at (317) 262-TIPS.