House explosion kills one, injures another

An explosion near East Campus last Friday killed a former MU professor and put his wife in critical condition.

Carl Sneed, 87, was trapped under debris and died before firefighters could rescue him.

Merna Sneed, 84, is listed in critical condition at University Hospital, after their house on McNab Drive in Columbia burst into flames Friday morning.

“An explosion is something we haven’t seen in a while,” Battalion Chief Steven Sapp said, who was on the scene during the fire. “There was virtually no house left.”

Before firefighters arrived, neighbor Jack Kennedy, 80, attempted to rescue Carl Sneed from the fire.

“Mr. Kennedy came across the street and tried to rescue Mr. Sneed,” Sapp said. “He didn’t know where Mrs. Sneed was.”

While Kennedy’s rescue attempt focused on Carl Sneed, Merna Sneed was trapped under debris at the rear of the house.

“We went after Mr. Sneed because we knew where he was,” Sapp said.

Kennedy escaped the fire with only minor burns on his arms and scalp.

“It was a heroic rescue attempt in a very unstable structure,” Sapp said. “We were unable to really fight the fire in an offensive mode because of how unstable the house was.”

Sapp’s crew was able to contain the fire and keep it from damaging any of the surrounding structures.

The cause of the explosion has yet to be determined, and Sapp said the process of figuring it out will be painstaking.

“We have to take time to understand the layout of the house,” Sapp said. “The investigators must systematically rule things out until we are left with a cause.”

Causes being investigated include natural gas, significant amounts of chemicals inside the house — specifically liquid propane, and unexploded grenades that were kept as war souvenirs that might have been thought to be inert.

Carl Sneed was a retired professor of aeronautical engineering at MU.

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