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WATCH: Is this how Richmond Hill blast ignited?

Posted at 11:39 AM, Feb 03, 2016

FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Could you ignite a house full of natural gas with a metal cylinder and a microwave? Fire investigator Jamie Novak thinks so.

Novak says he was intrigued when he heard the theory of how the Richmond Hill Explosion was set in motion: a metal cylinder containing an ignitable liquid placed in a microwave on a timer, eventually superheating and rupturing, causing an explosion that ignited natural gas in the home.

"I thought it was possible," he said. "I called all my engineer friends and asked them what would happen if you put a metal cylinder in a microwave. They said nothing would happen."

Novak was called to testify Tuesday at the trial of explosion suspect Bob Leonard, Jr. He told jurors that even though he wasn't involved in the investigation -- he works as a fire investigator in St. Paul, Minnesota -- he wanted to test out the theory because he frequently trains other arson investigators.

Novak said he bought a used microwave and a metal fuel cylinder to see what would happen.

WATCH: RTV6 was granted exclusive access to footage of Novak's initial experiment. See that in the video player above.

"The first time we did it, nothing happened," Novak said. "But, within about 15 minutes of starting it up again, the door blew open, the pressure release valve went and we had a ball of fire shoot out of the microwave."

Novak told jurors he eventually learned the model of microwave found in the rubble of Monserrate Shirley's home at 8349 Fieldfare Way following the 2012 explosion. Jurors were shown a video Novak made of a metal cylinder heated up inside that same type of microwave.

Note: The video above is from Novak's original experiment, not the test shown to jurors this week.

After performing multiple tests, Novak, who said he's burned down more than 130 homes and blown up 10 over his career as a fire investigator and instructor, said he finds the prosecution's theory plausible.

"The flame that came out of the [microwave] door would have ignited any natural gas in the room," Novak said.

Bob Leonard faces 51 felony charges in connection with his alleged role in the Richmond Hill Explosion. His half-brother, Mark Ray Leonard, was convicted on 53 counts in July and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in prison, plus 75 years.


Call 6 Investigator Rafael Sanchez and Senior Digital Correspondent Jordan Fischer will be in Fort Wayne covering the trial every day. Download the RTV6 app to get the latest live blog posts as the proceedings unfold.

FOLLOW | Rafael Sanchez on Twitter | Jordan Fischer on Twitter

RELATED LINKS | Richmond Hill Special Section |  Mark Ray Leonard convicted on all counts

PREVIOUS | Timeline of events | Gallery: The Richmond Hill Explosion | Where were you at 11:11 PM?

INTERACTIVE MAP | Residents relive Richmond Hill explosion


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