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April 17th, 2010
Buda rocked by house fire, explosion

Buda firefighters sift through the rubble of the charred garage. PHOTO by SEAN KIMMONS


Hays County investigators say one person is dead in the aftermath of a garage fire and home explosion that rocked the Buda neighborhood Saturday morning of Hays Country Oaks.

Though the deceased person has not yet been identified, the home at 1132 Live Oak Loop was owned by Steven Wayne Woelfel, 55, who was described by neighbors as reclusive and strongly anti-government.

Investigators say one fire was deliberately started in the detached garage, which sits about 20 feet from the house. Buda firefighters arrived on the scene of the garage fire at 11 a.m. and found the structure fully engulfed, said Buda Fire Chief Clay Huckaby. About five minutes later, an explosion blew out the windows of the home and ripped the back wall off the structure. Investigators say the explosion may have been caused by candles left lit in front of an ignited gas stove.

Because the garage sits to the side of the house and the explosion pushed out the front and back of the house, firefighters escaped the brunt of the blast. Huckaby said he couldn’t speculate if the explosion was deliberately rigged to injure first responders arriving on the scene.

“I’m just grateful that nobody got hurt when the house exploded,” Huckaby said.

Next door neighbors Terry and Debbie Arenz said Woelfel, who owned a business laying tile, lived on his own and kept to himself.

“He was a very different breed of cat,” said Terry Arenz. “He was anti-government for sure.”

Debbie Arenz said she was at home when she heard the loud explosion, which she believes was deliberately set.

Investigators say Woelfel’s family, concerned after not hearing from him for an extended period of time, called the Hays County Sheriff’s Department Friday and requested they conduct a welfare check.

Pct. 5 Justice of the Peace Scott Cary, who was called to the scene, said the body could not immediately be identified and the cause of death was still undetermined. Investigators say the body was badly damaged in the fire and they could not immediately say if there were other injuries.

The Hays County Sheriff’s Office has asked the Department of Public Safety to take over the investigation. Investigators say they will likely be on the scene of the fatality late into the night.

This story originally was published in the Hays Free Press. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Mercury and the Free Press.

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