Dozens of firefighters from several agencies responded to the fire Saturday night in Richfield, about 15 miles southwest of Omaha. A father making his kids dinner discovered his cooking grease had caught fire and was spreading to the walls.
Papillion firefighters arrived first and doused the fire with water. Firefighter Joe LaPuzza said he was spraying water into the home at the front door when an unusual phenomenon occurred: a smoke explosion.
“I shut the water off so I could put my gloves on and advance up to the door and the next thing I knew I was thrown back and felt like I was on fire,” he told WOWT. “I didn’t know what happened I just know it wasn’t good.”
A video of the blast was captured on a Sarpy County deputy’s cruiser cam.
“I knew something went wrong. The explosion was loud. My ears were ringing, I felt like I was on fire,” LaPuzza told KETV.
LaPuzza was treated for second degree burns on his hands.
Two firefighters behind LaPuzza were also thrown by the explosion. One suffered a concussion and singed eyebrows and is recuperating at home. The other was checked out but he’s OK.
Authorities say a smoke explosion, similar to a backdraft, happens when pressure builds up in a room until it has nowhere to go but out. In this case, the building included a converted apartment, storage space and an old bank — all connected and all burning.
“Having a building that pressurized with multiple open doors is just unheard of,” LaPuzza explained.