Explosion survivor: ‘Angels carried me’

When Leon Brech survived a propane explosion more than three years ago, the Flandreau man isn’t exactly sure how he got out of the house.

But he has a pretty good idea.

“I know there is a God and guardian angels,” he says. “I think angels carried me out.”

It’s a story he will share nationally this month with viewers of the 700 Club, a Christian Broadcasting Network television show featuring spiritual stories. The show spent a day in Flandreau filming his story several weeks ago and will condense it down to a six-minute segment. Brech hasn’t gotten the specific schedule for when it will air.

The story started June 18, 2014, when Brech and a friend, who was going to rent Brech’s house near Harrisburg, tried to start a water heater. The friend had not been able to get it lit and called Brech to help. When they entered the house, they smelled propane so they opened the doors and window and shut the tank off outside, Brech says. In the basement utility room, the odor was gone, and Brech knelt and pushed the ignitor button, which resulted in an explosion that blew the house apart and parts of it off of its foundation.

Neither he nor the friend remember walking up the steps out of the basement, but they ended up on a deck. While they suffered burns on their bodies and were transported to St. Paul, Minn., for care, the house never started on fire.

Brech’s memory of the accident is spotty. He remembers putting out a piece of paper that was on fire and shutting off the water so the basement wouldn’t flood. He also remembers walking out of the utility room. But he doesn’t remember going down a hallway nor climbing back up the steps and thinks that would have been impossible. While he never saw an angel, looking at it afterwards, it’s the only explanation, he says.

“The inspector said nobody walked up the basement steps. He kicked them and they went right down,” Brech says. “Angels had to carry us out because neither one of us remember going down that hallway.”

When a neighbor showed up, she didn’t recognize Brech but poured cold water on his burned flesh. “My skin was sizzling because it was so burned.”

From Sioux Falls, the two men were flown to St. Paul, where doctors told Brech that it would take six to eight weeks for him to heal enough to go home. But Brech was confident it would be sooner.

“I said, ‘no I’m not. There’s a lot of people praying for me, and God is a great healer,’” he says. He was able to go home in less than three weeks.

During his hospitalization, his wife, Cheryl, stayed by his side. “I prayed for him so much,” she says. “I had a peace the whole time.”

Brech, who is now 65, had burns on his arms that required skin grafting, and he also was burned on his face. His hair was singed off.

Today, the scars are mostly unnoticeable unless inspected closely. One ear is slightly disfigured, presumably where the bow of his glasses turned hot.

Three years ago, shortly after the accident, Brech and his wife moved to Flandreau to a home with additional buildings on four acres of land on East Pipestone Avenue. They attend Holy Life Tabernacle, a non-denominational church in Brookings, and as a car collector, he started a local car club that exhibits at Park Days in Flandreau.

A friend at church encouraged him for more than two years to share his story and his faith. He finally agreed.

“It’s made me appreciate each day,” he says of the accident. “God wasn’t finished with me. He saved me to go out and spread the word.”


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