Cause of fatal house explosion remains undetermined

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 5/19/21

BELLE — The Missouri State Fire Marshal’s office has yet to complete their official report on the cause of an explosion in the 33000 block of Highway 28 West, Belle on May 13 that …

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Cause of fatal house explosion remains undetermined


BELLE — The Missouri State Fire Marshal’s office has yet to complete their official report on the cause of an explosion in the 33000 block of Highway 28 West, Belle on May 13 that resulted in fatal injuries to the homeowner.

“They have listed the cause of the explosion as ‘undetermined,’” said Communications Director Mike O’Connell on Tuesday afternoon. “They conducted their investigation and listed it as ‘undetermined.’ The only occupant died as a result of the blast.”

O’Connell speculated that it may take weeks to file a full detective report as the Fire Marshal’s office waits on other investigators to complete their investigations and compare notes.”

The homeowner Shelby “Janie” Snitker was home and presumably in bed, when the explosion occurred. The Belle Volunteer Fire Department was called out at 10:14 p.m. Thursday night for an explosion.

Belle Volunteer Fire Chief Dwight Francis said Friday morning that when they arrived on scene the house was already destroyed and the homeowner had been located by a Maries County Sheriff’s deputy, maybe 50 feet from the residence where she had been thrown.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of the house left when we got there,” Francis said. “It was everywhere, on the road. We assisted EMS with loading the patient.”

Snitker was transported to Mercy Hospital Creve Coeur to be treated at the burn unit. Her son Roland Snitker was present at the scene around 10 a.m. Friday morning and said she died of her injuries around 3:26 a.m. with family around her.

“Her bedroom was on the south side of the house,” Roland Snitker said, pointing at the walls that remained on that side lying more than 20 feet from the roughly 1,000 square foot foundation. “We were hoping to start clean-up, but until they finish their investigation, I guess we can’t touch any structural stuff. We can pick up pictures and personal items.”

The family located a few items, including pieces of Snitker’s dresser, sewing cabinet, a few firearms, jewelry, pictures and some sentimental pieces.

Roland Snitker said a neighbor heard the explosion, saw the flames and called a family member who lived nearby, who then called his brother. Roland Snitker and his family live in Eugene while his brother lives in Belle.

“When they called us, they were already headed to Mercy in St. Louis, so we headed that way,” Roland Snitker said. “She still knew her name when they got her to the emergency room, but after a while she was talking incoherently.”

With the extensive burn injuries, and the hospital unable to stabilize her condition, the Snitker family made the decision to remove the breathing tubes. She died minutes later. 

The explosion scattered debris in the trees that lined the road and as far as 30 feet across Highway 28. It charred trees that were facing the house and melted siding off of the nearby garage.

“We had the flames under control in 20 minutes but there was extensive mop up,” Francis said. Firemen and EMS cleared the scene between 2:45 and 3 a.m. Friday morning.

“We sent a truck out there at the fire marshal’s request this morning,” Francis said. “They went back out in the daylight and continued their investigation.”

The cause of the fire is still undetermined. Francis said on Friday that he suspects it will remain that way officially for a few weeks as the Propane Commission and insurance inspector conduct their investigations.

“I am pretty sure they are going to call it accidental,” Francis said. “It is just due to the nature of it.”


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