COLUMBIA CITY — An explosion at a warehouse that could be felt by residents all over Columbia City killed one person and injured two others Saturday morning, the Indiana State Police report.

Shortly before 9 a.m. officers from multiple police agencies and numerous fire departments responded to the building explosion at 515 N. Line St., Columbia City. Arriving first responders found a warehouse structure located on this property fully engulfed in flames, Sgt. Brian Walker said.

There were three adults reported in or around the building at the time of the initial explosion. Two of those adults were able to escape the building with only minor injuries, Walker said. One adult male remained trapped inside and was unable to be rescued due to the size and nature of the fire. There was significant damage to several adjacent business and residential structures to the south and west of the warehouse.

The initial dispatch reported that "half of the building was gone." Within minutes, the entire building was up in flames — heat could be felt from as far as Ace Hardware — several yards away from the scene.

Along with first responders, other personnel quickly made the scene, including members of the Columbia City Electric Department and NIPSCO.

At approximately 2:30 p.m., after the fire scene was extinguished, police and fire investigators were then able to locate and recover the body of the deceased adult male, who has not been identified.

Preliminary cause of the explosion and the fire is believed to be related to a natural gas leak, however the Indiana State Fire Marshal's Office will be handling the fire portion of the investigation, which will officially determine the cause and manner.

As part of this ongoing investigation, in cooperation with the Whitley County Coroner's Office, the Indiana State Police will be the lead agency responsible for the conducting the death investigation.

Identifying the deceased will be part of the Whitley County Coroner's official investigation.

There was damage to neighboring businesses and homes, including the City Vision Center, located just south of the property. Several cars in nearby parking lots were damaged also. The original 911 dispatch placed the explosion at Dollar General, which is located north of the explosion site. There were no reports of injury to patrons of Dollar General.

Firefighters continued fighting the blaze and remaining hot spots well into Saturday evening.

The building was formerly the site of Discount Mattress, R&D Motorsports and Mancino's Pizza, but as of recent, there were no businesses operating out of the building. According to Whitley County GIS information, the building was constructed in 1983 and the property is owned by Brooks Bowles, of Columbia City. 

Agencies assisting in this investigation were: troopers and detectives from the Indiana State Police Fort Wayne Post, Columbia City Police Department, Whitley County Sheriff's Department, Columbia City Fire Department, Union Township Fire, Smith Township Fire, Thorn Creek Township Fire, Columbia Township Fire, Parkview EMS, Whitley County Prosecutor's Office, Whitley County Coroner's Office, and the State Fire Marshal's Office.

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