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Owner of property and site of deadly San Antonio explosion never obtained proper building permits, officials say

The Dec. 9 explosion killed four people in a quiet area of the southeast side. An investigation is ongoing.

SAN ANTONIO — The owner of the underground structure that was the site of a deadly southeast-San Antonio explosion last week never obtained the proper permits to build such a property despite aerial images identifying potential construction as early as 2016, local officials tell KENS 5.

The explosion rattled the area of South Presa south of Loop 410 shortly after 11 p.m. Dec. 9, killing four. San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood said earlier this week that the 75-acre property was used to house construction equipment, while multiple people also lived in the underground home.

The ongoing investigation – involving the efforts of SAFD, SAPD, FBI and ATF – ruled out a potential drug lab or explosive devices as causes of the deadly blast. 

That home was 4,000 square feet in size and reached 12 feet underground. Hood says it was constructed with six-to-eight-inch-thick walls, and heavy, rebar-like material that would be seen in high-rise projects.


CPS Energy confirmed the property had no natural gas service, but fire officials confirmed the presence of a propane tank on site. They said witnesses who had been on the property in the hours before the blast reported smelling gas in the air. First responders who arrived after the blast also warned each other in radio transmissions of smelling gas in the air.

At a briefing earlier this week, the arson division chief said because propane is heavier than air, they were looking into the possibility that the explosive gas may have settled into the home, triggering the explosion. They added they are awaiting lab results before making a final ruling on a cause.

San Antonio city officials told KENS 5 all buildings, whether under or above ground, are required to obtain building permits from the development services division "to ensure they meet the city's construction codes." But, they said, that never happened for the South Presa property.

Officials with the Bexar County Appraisal District also told KENS 5 that they previously had limited access to the property, adding the owner even "denied the structure being there." It was eventually added to the roll for property appraisal in 2020 "an an underground bunker/storage."


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