October 31 began as a quiet, beautiful fall morning and a routine furnace service call - then the unfathomable happened and lives were changed forever. Sometime after 9AM Dan DeWitt of DeWitt Refrigeration Heating and Cooling arrived at the rural Gladbrook home of Bruce and Mary Appelgate to check out a furnace.
Despite the many stories and rumors surfacing, the facts of exactly what happened are still being determined by the State Fire Marshall's Office. They have released no information as of press time. In fact, no press release has been issued by any authorities other than confirmation of the death of Mary Appelgate and the name of Dan DeWitt as being injured and being in the burn unit at Iowa City.
The explosion was witnessed by close neighbors Chanda Bovenmyer and Newell Drury. Chanda was on her way between GMG Elementary and the High School when she saw a huge ball of fire shoot into the sky. She summoned her husband, Kevin and they headed to the scene. Newell was on his tractor and heard the immense noise and he and his wife, Jean, hurried to their neighbors home.
Words cannot begin to convey the destruction at the site of the October 31 house explosion at the Bruce and Mary Appelgate home, located south of Gladbrook. All that remains standing of the home is the large fireplace. Debris that did not burn in the fire remains scattered across the area. In the center just in front of the shed is the remains of the car which was in the garage. To the far right is the burned pick-up owned by Dan DeWitt. Mary Appelgate lost her life in the explosion and Dan DeWitt remains in the burn unit at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
The four arrived at almost the same time and they say that Dan was just emerging from the basement of the home. There was a tremendous fire. Bruce arrived home from Gladbrook and so did the Gladbrook Fire Department and the Gladbrook Lincoln Ambulance Service.
Fire Departments from Gladbrook, Garwin, Green Mountain and Toledo responded to the scene, as well as emergency medical teams from Gladbrook and Toledo.
Dan DeWitt was taken to MMSC and taken by life-flight to the burn unit at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. According to his Dad, Mike DeWitt, Dan had surgery on his hand on Monday evening and remains stable.
Gladbrook Fire Department Chief Matt Koester issued the following statement: "We received the page at 9:10 AM for a house explosion. We called for mutual aid with Garwin, Green Mountain and Toledo for Fire and EMS. We arrived at the scene and found the home fully engulfed with heavy smoke. We set up and noted Dan DeWitt was there - he has been on the department and it seemed normal. Once making contact with him we found out he had just gotten there to check the furnace and that is when the explosion happened. Dan was transported to MMSC for burns he sustained in the explosion.
We started to contain the fire. Heavy smoke delayed our search of the residence. We requested for the State Fire Marshall to arrive. Once they arrived we assisted them with the investigation. The results of the investigation are pending.
It is hard in a small community when we get a call, it almost always includes your family, friends and neighbors. That is what we are trained and prepared for. I'm so proud of the department and the guys for all they do."
And may this reporter add - the community is deeply indebted to this group who volunteer their time to the Fire Department and the Ambulance Service. Lives of many depend on you!
While families and people were changed forever as this tragedy occurred, one thing remains constant - the people of the local communities have once again come together to support those in need. That was clearly evident by the vast number of people who came to the visitation for Mary and the large crowd attending the memorial services.
The outpouring of love and support is what small town folks do. God's love is spread.