A Galloway Township house has been condemned and will have to be torn down after an explosion fueled by a gas leak caused major structural damage.
The explosion occurred about 10:30 a.m. in a single-story house at West North Street and South Cincinnati Avenue in the South Egg Harbor section of the township.
Township fire inspector Scott Feldman said a gas leak likely developed in the basement crawl space. When the gas that had collected in the space was ignited — likely by the pilot light of the hot water heater — the explosion occurred. The blast lifted the house off its foundation, and it went crashing back down, causing the damage.
“The homeowners might not have had an inkling it was happening,” Feldman said. “They were very lucky that most of the explosion occurred in the crawl space of the house. Even though things broke in the house, they didn’t get the concussion of the actual explosion.”
Margie Perez and two relatives were inside when the explosion occurred, though none of them was injured. Perez said they were doing laundry and had smelled gas, but the smell suddenly dissipated. Then, without warning, the house lifted up. Portions of the walls peeled away from the house, a massive crack formed in the front right side, the back washroom partially separated off and the window-unit air conditioner fell out of the window.
“It was kind of scary. It shook the whole house,” said Perez, 27.
Firefighters put out a small fire toward the back of the house quickly, and neighbors said there was an overwhelming scent of charred wood in the air for a short while.
John Besseris, who lives four houses away from the explosion, said he was inside watching television when he heard a loud boom and felt the house shake. “It felt like a bomb went off,” he said.
Besseris was among about 10 residents who were temporarily evacuated from their houses while authorities tried to determine where the gas leak occurred and ensured that no other houses were damaged.
About 25 minutes after the explosion, a Galloway building code official taped a bright orange sticker to the house’s front door that declared the building condemned, and police surrounded the house with caution tape.
Feldman said the fact that no one was injured and no other properties were damaged was an incredible stroke of luck considering that neighboring houses are only about 15 feet apart.
Perez said she and her relatives will stay with family, but she kept thinking that she has no place to live. Firefighters retrieved a few essential possessions, including medicine and some basic clothing, but Feldman said he was unsure when the rest of their belongings could be gathered.
Feldman said gas leaks are relatively common but explosions are rare. And most explosions, he said, also come with injuries and major fires.
A gas explosion in an Atlantic City house in 2003 resulted in a major fire, and a boiler explosion in an Ocean City school that same year killed a custodian.
“I’ve been a volunteer firefighter for 30-some years, and the last one I remember was when I was volunteering with my father,” Feldman said. “Everyone here was lucky.”
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