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Furnace may have caused deadly Indiana blast

INDIANAPOLIS — The owner of one of the homes that exploded in Indianapolis said Monday that a problem furnace could be to blame for the blast that killed two people and damaged dozens of homes so severely officials say they must be demolished.

John Shirley, 50, of Noblesville, Ind., said his daughter sent him a text message last week complaining that the furnace in the home where she lives with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend had gone out and required them to stay at hotel.

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But Shirley also said when he asked if the furnace had been fixed, his daughter said yes, and he wasn’t aware of any additional problems until he heard from his daughter again Sunday morning. ‘‘I get a text from my daughter saying ‘Dad, our home is gone,’ ’’ he said.

A spokeswoman for Citizens Energy gas company said the utility did not receive any reports about a faulty furnace at the home. But spokeswoman Sarah Holsapple also said the homeowner wouldn’t necessarily report such a problem to the gas company.

And if the homeowner hired someone to fix the furnace, that person also wouldn’t need to tell the utility.

Investigators said they have not determined a cause for the Saturday night blast that sparked a massive fire, blew out windows, collapsed ceilings, and shook homes up to 3 miles away. Public Safety Director Troy Riggs said the search for answers could take some time and investigators will treat the area as a crime scene until they rule out foul play.

Much of the investigation so far has focused on natural gas. A utility spokesman said workers have been inspecting mains in the neighborhood but have detected no leaks so far.

The blast forced about 200 people out of their homes. Some were allowed to return Sunday, and others were able to retrieve a few belongings. But officials have estimated that 30 homes will have to be demolished.

The blast flattened the house Shirley co-owns with his former wife and one next door that belongs to second-grade teacher Jennifer Longworth and her husband, John.

The coroner’s office has not yet identified the two people killed in the blast, but a candlelight vigil was held Sunday night at the school where Jennifer Longworth teaches.

Greenwood Community Schools Superintendent David Edds said parents organized the vigil after word of the blast spread.

He said school officials assumed the Longworths were the victims because no one had heard from them.

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