By Karl Terry, Freedom New Mexico
While investigators haven’t pinpointed a cause for Wednesday’s deadly explosion at the Clytie Calton residence in Portales, members of the family have said they smelled gas prior to the explosion.
Calton died Saturday from injuries sustained in that explosion.
“We always want to say thanks,” Bill Calton said. “A lot of people have offered a lot of help. We appreciate what the EMTs and the police guys did as well.”
Members of the family were gathering Saturday at the home of Clytie Calton’s daughter Sharon Davis and remembering her as the center of the family and the Calton Furniture business.
They said she was an active lady who had continued to work at the store every day.
The explosion caused major damage to the home in the Yucca Heights subdivision. Investigators have sealed the property off with chain-link fencing and “No trespassing” signs but have not yet released an official cause for the blast.
Bill Calton, Clytie Calton’s son, who was also in the home at the time of the blast but was uninjured, said insurance investigators trained in this type of accident will inspect the house in the next few days, but the family has not been allowed inside the home.
Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Berry said his department has turned over its findings to the state fire marshal’s office. He wouldn’t say if natural gas was the focus of the investigation.
“You can’t rule anything out until the exact cause is found,” Berry said. He said other investigators would likely be at the scene for at least another week.
Jeff Buell of PNM, the natural gas utility that serves Portales, said explosions such as the one Wednesday are very rare occurrences, but when they do happen, they have the potential to be devastating.
He said it was likely that natural gas was associated with the explosion at the Calton home but it was too early to say the exact cause.
“We’ve performed a leak survey from the gas main to the house and no leaks were found there,” Buell said.
If the explosion turns out to be caused by natural gas, it won’t be the first such event in Portales with deadly consequences. On June 28, 1982, an explosion that collapsed the roof of a home and touched off an inferno killed six people just a few blocks north of the Calton home.
In the 1982 explosion at the home of former Portales banker David Jones at 18th Street and Avenue H, five people were killed immediately, including Jones’ wife Madelle, three of the couple’s grandchildren and another child who was a guest in the home. David Jones, who was thrown clear of the blast, later died from his injuries. Others in the family were trapped in the debris and resulting fire.
Investigators working that accident found a 65-inch gap in the pipeline. It was suspected at the time that the line had been disturbed by workers a month earlier, and gas had slowly seeped through the soil and accumulated underneath the home.
In the 1982 reports of the Jones home explosion, a reference was made to a 1949 natural gas explosion at L.L. Brown School in Portales, which crippled a school teacher, Alice Watson.
Madelle McCormack (Jones) was a student teacher for Watson, but she was not in the classroom at the time.
Home safety tips
• Have furnaces and other gas appliances serviced every year by a professional.
• Leave any dwelling where you smell natural gas immediately and call the gas company.
• Make sure you know where utility lines are located before digging.
• Install carbon monoxide monitors along with smoke detectors in your home.
• Make sure batteries in those detectors are changed twice a year.