LAFAYETTE — A long life ended Thursday when an elderly woman died in a house explosion in eastern Allen County.
Gladys M. Ward, 96, was killed when at 8:29 a.m. her home at 2240 N. Phillips Road, Harrod, exploded, leaving only the basement intact and throwing items hundreds of feet from the property.
When the Lafayette-Jackson Township Fire Department responded, firefighters extinguished a fire that they found in the basement, according to a news release. The department found the deceased homeowner shortly afterward. Her name was not released, pending an investigation; neighbors in the area confirmed who she was to The Lima News.
“She was a really nice person,” said next-door neighbor Robert Reynolds. “My wife went over there a couple times a week because she knew (Ward) lived alone.”
Ward and her husband, Robert L. Ward, had been married for 74 years as of March 31. The couple purchased the home on Phillips Road in 1978.
In a The Lima News column written by Jim Krumel about the couple in March 2015, their daughter, Deb Barnes, said the two met on a blind date during World War II. Gladys’ friend was dating Robert Ward’s brother and set up a meeting. They were married in 1944, Barnes said.
Ward had three daughters and had to face burying two of them. Rhea, the oldest, died of leukemia when she was just 16. The youngest daughter, Peg, died at the age of 51.
Ward had been living in the home alone after her husband died in an accident in May. Reynolds said Robert Ward had been burning leaves when something caused him to lose balance and he fell into the flames.
The Ward home was laid to waste. The structure had been completely blown apart with pieces of debris scattered 250 feet or more from the epicenter of the blast. Clothing was hanging from the trees like Halloween decorations and personal items — cards, a list of important phone numbers and books — were scattered around the neighboring yards.
Neighbor Reynolds said his distraught wife called him — they were both away — and told him she’d heard it was their house that had exploded. He rushed home to discover his house standing but heavily damaged. The windows facing Ward’s home were blown out, the blast had knocked everything off the walls, some of his doors had been knocked out of the frames — but most surprisingly, his home had been pushed off its foundation, he said.
The Reynolds house was shielded by trees from the Ward house.
“It might have been better if it were mine (that exploded),” Reynolds said. “There wasn’t anybody at home.”
The home directly across the street from the explosion had its front and back windows ruined, and the roof and yard were covered in wreckage.
“My power went out and I counted 1, 2, 3 and then BOOM,” said Pat Connor, a neighbor who lives about a quarter of a mile across a field, closer to Lafayette, from Ward. “It scared the heck out of me.”
The entire house shook, and he went outside to investigate — but the thick fog prevented him from seeing across the field, he said.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating. The Bath Township Fire Department and Allen County Sheriff’s Office assisted.
Reach Bryan Reynolds at 567-242-0362