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Maine Officials: Propane Likely Cause of Deadly House Explosion in Bath
02/12/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

A duplex in Bath exploded early this morning, leveling the structure and leaving one woman dead. The State Fire Marshal's office is working with a team of investigators to determine the cause. As Patty Wight reports, propane is the likely culprit.

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Bath explosion 1

Firefighters battle a blaze at a Bath duplex that exploded and caught fire early this morning, killing one.

The accident happened at the Atlantic Townhouse Apartments, a development with over two-dozen double and single-story brick buildings, just behind the Bath shopping center. The explosion of the single-story duplex in the dark morning hours just after 5 o'clock jolted neighbors out of bed.

"My boyfriend got up to go to work, and then all of a sudden there was a loud, really loud, boom. The whole house shook," says neighbor Debra Prindell.

Bath explosion 2"My room filled up with light when I heard the big bang, and I thought it was a transformer that blew," says another neighbor, Cynthia Tibbetts.

"And we were hollering at each other. We thought a plane had crashed or something," Prindell says.

"I was in bed sleeping and heard the explosion, got up, came, looked out the window and I could see fire," says James King, who also lives nearby.

"And I threw open the bedroom window, and when I did, sparks and everything were flying right by my window," Prindell adds.

"I went and got the rest of my family up," King says, "When I came outside and looked, the building was just gone."

Prindall, Tibbetts and King were among the many nearby residents who rushed out to the street to see car and apartment doors and windows blown out. Some stood in shock as they watched the flames, while others, including James King and his wife Lisa, helped elderly residents evacuate their apartments.

Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland says there's one known victim.

"The home was occupied by a man on one side, and a woman on the other. It is that woman that is the likely victim here," McCausland says.. "The man left for work about a half-hour before the explosion. He actually works at McDonald's, which is in earshot of the explosion, heard about it and went back to the home and was overcome and taken to the hospital. The fact that he had left the home prior to the explosion likely saved his life."

Bath explosion 3A total of four people were taken to the hospital for non-life-threatening injuries. McCausland says the State Fire Marshal's Office is leading the investigation with the assistance of the Bath Fire and Public Works Department, as well as a state police airplane that circled the area to map the scene.

All that was left of the duplex was a pile of debris (right). Some material from the blast could be seen dangling between nearby tree branches, while heavier items, such as roofing, brick, and concrete, could be found up to 200 yards beyond the duplex.

Sgt. Ken Grimes of the State Fire Marshal's office says the two units, like all others in the complex, were heated with propane, and investigators will plot a picture of the debris field in order to determine whether propane caused the explosion.

"Propane and natural gas will leave a distinctive blast pattern," Grimes says. "That's one of the things that, once we're able to get into the scene, and start removing some of the upper debris - the building materials itself - we'll get a look at the debris field. We'll be able to get a look at the basement walls and some of the building walls, and make a determination on if it was an explosion, what may have caused it, and where the seat of the explosion is."

Sgt. Grimes says those who use propane to heat their homes shouldn't be alarmed because, by and large, it is a safe heating source. The investigation will likely continue on the scene Wednesday, and Sgt. Grimes says neighborhood interviews alone could take days, given the number of apartment units within the vicinity.

Photos courtesy of Debra Prindell.

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