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Residents near Columbia City explosion site share accounts of blast impact

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Columbia City explosion 5 22 2021 Jon Whiteman

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (WPTA21) - The Indiana Fire Marshal's Office is still working to determine what caused an explosion and fire that left one man dead.

It was known to locals as the old R & D motorsports building, but the warehouse bears no resemblance to what it used to look like.

That's because the blast and subsequent fire Saturday morning not only destroyed the site, it also broke garage doors and windows close by.

Indiana State Police said the explosion appeared to be triggered by some sort of natural gas leak, and at this point, there's nothing new to suggest a different cause.

The State Fire Marshal's Office told ABC21 its investigators are still searching for answers.

A pet shop was being remodeled up front and members of a motorcycle club used space in the rear.

We're told the man who died in the fire was a member of the club.

Three people were in or around the building at the time. Two people made it out with minor injuries.

That third person was trapped inside and rescuers couldn't get to him.

ABC21 spoke to neighbors who are still marveling at the power of the initial blast.

"I came running outside and neighbors were running over to me and asking if everything is OK. And I am just like 'What's going on?" I look outside and there's a huge cloud of smoke, black as could be. Boom, boom," Starmarie Hillsburg who lives nearby said.

"Immediately I ran out and when I came outside I saw that thing was leveled already and on fire and I heard screams... it blew my garage door off, my neighbor's garage door off over here," another neighbor Keith Enyeart said.

Indiana State Police said the raging fire made it impossible for rescuers to get inside to save the man trapped in the burning debris.

The Whitley County Coroner's Office has not released the identity of the victim.

The victim's family has set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for funeral funds.

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