Survivor of deadly explosion tells harrowing story of crawling to safety, shares message on life

Local News

COLUMBIA CITY, Ind. (WANE) – A man who says he survived a deadly explosion in Columbia City credited God with giving him a way to escape the flames and falling debris. Dave Stemen said he crawled to safety as buildings burned Saturday morning.

“Before we knew it, there was a loud crack,” Stemen told WANE 15. “Everything went black. An orange fireball kind of went over the ceiling above us and walls and ceiling – everything started coming down on top of us and God opened up a small tunnel for us to crawl through.”

Stemen said he was helping get a future pet shop ready to open on Line Street Saturday. When he arrived, he said he noticed a slight smell of natural gas in the air. Moments after he searched for the source, an explosion rattled windows around the city and sent smoke into the sky. He and another man made their way through the flames.

In his words

“We both started army crawling toward the sunlight, and was about a 20 to 25 foot army crawl as fire debris was coming down around us,” Stemen explained. “But we, we got up, we got out and turned around and recognize that God had made a way of escape for us out of that extremely difficult situation.”

Another man died in a neighboring building that was also destroyed in the explosion.

“My heart goes out to the wife and kids of the one who did die in the blast,” Stemen said. “Why was it him and not me? That’s an answer for God to tell us when we have a chance to ask.”

A poignant picture

Stemen shared some final words about life. He told WANE 15 that people shouldn’t get hung up on the things that really don’t matter.

“My message is to love God to love others,” Stemen added. “Don’t take every day and every moment for granted as we do.”

Steman said he hopes to see the pet shop be rebuilt and eventually open.

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