Five people, including three firefighters, were injured in an explosion Wednesday afternoon at a house on Park Lane in North Franklin Township.
The 3:50 p.m. explosion – which was felt for several miles and caused a plume of smoke that was visible for miles – leveled the house and damaged neighboring homes around the 100 Park Lane property, which is off the 200 block of Park Avenue.
Washington County Director of Public Safety Jeff Yates said three North Franklin Township firefighters, the homeowner and a neighbor were injured.
North Franklin Supervisor Bob Sabot said the township’s fire chief Dave Bane was among those injured.
None of the injuries were believed to be life-threatening. One of the firefighters suffered heat exhaustion, and a neighbor experienced chest pains. The homeowner and two other firefighters had cuts and abrasions.
They were transported to Washington and Mercy hospitals.
Sabot said firefighters were in the area to investigate a gas leak before the explosion occurred.
“There was a smell of gas in the neighborhood,” Sabot said.
According to Yates, firefighters arrived at the home within minutes after the homeowner called to report the smell of gas, and they turned off the gas.
“They had shut off the gas and were outside of the house with the owner of the home when the house blew up,” said Yates.
Homes as far as four blocks away were damaged.
Christi Frauenholz of Canton, Ohio, whose husband was working at Washington & Jefferson College, said she heard the blast.
“We were about knocked off our feet,” she said.
Fearing a plane had crashed, she said she headed in the direction of a rising plume of smoke to see if anyone needed help.
“The lady in the house is OK,” Frauenholz said. “She was in her house and smelled gas. She went outside, and as soon as she opened the garage door, (the house) exploded.
“I could not believe she came out of that house. The lady is alive, thank you, Jesus. She was sitting on a neighbor’s step.
“She was bleeding from the ears and head, but she was able to walk to the ambulance.”
Columbia Gas spokesman Lee Gierczynski wasn’t immediately able to give details of what exactly had happened.
“That’s going to be part of the investigation into this,” he said.
He said the company shut off gas service for about 60 customers in the area, including Walther’s Hill House Pizza, “out of an abundance of caution.”
“That’s solely as a precaution to make sure the area was safe,” he added.
Yates said the gas company plans to go through each home to make sure there are no gas leaks before restoring service. There was no estimate as to when service will be restored.
Frauenholz described seeing insulation in treetops 35 feet above the ground. She said doors and windows were knocked from neighboring homes, but she did not know of anyone else who was hurt.
“Her house is literally gone,” she said of the flattened home site.
The explosion could be heard and felt throughout the surrounding area. Workers at Washington Financial at South Main and West Wheeling Street came outside, fearing a vehicle had struck the building because of the way it shook.
The explosion blew out a large storefront window at Liberty Pole Spirits shortly after a customer walked out the door of the business at 68 W. Main St., said Ellen Ballinger Hough, an owner of the Washington distillery.
She was standing in the front room with her son, Kevin, when they heard the boom and thought one of their stills had exploded.
“This was a major explosion,” Hough said. “We hugged each other and we were glad we were alive.”
Then one small piece of glass fell from the window before it exploded onto the sidewalk, she said.
Eleanor Rea was doing housework in the bedroom of her Park Avenue home just up the lane. Suddenly, she was on the floor.
“I went down,” she said. “I don’t know if (it was) automatic or what it was.”
She and her husband, Gaylord, both 84, weren’t hurt, but the blast caused damage throughout much of the house they share.
It shattered windows, knocking a door to a deck out of its frame and yanking down a chandelier, along with other parts of their ceiling. It also left a crack in an outer wall and caved in part of the roof.
Washington County 911 was inundated with calls following the explosion.
Kelly Rosenbaum, who lives on Acheson Street in Washington about a half-mile from the explosion, said the blast damaged part of her roof.
“It was flash, bam, boom,” Rosenbaum said. “Pieces of debris were flying everywhere.”
She said debris from the explosion landed on nearby South Main Street.
Mackenzie Wise said she was at work when she got a phone call that “something had exploded behind my house.”
“There’s debris all over our house, and shingles in the alleyway,” said Wise.
Wise said several windows in the house, which sits more than a football field away from the home that exploded, were blown out, the porch ceiling buckled, a ceiling fan fell and an air conditioning unit was flung outside.
Yates cautioned people the blast has created a dangerous situation, and urged them to be aware of broken glass, wood with nails protruding and other debris.
“There is debris all over the place – in trees, in yards,” said Yates.
State police in Washington are investigating the blast.
Yates said drones were deployed to take aerial shots of the blast site to help determine the cause of the explosion.
Pennsylvania State Police ask any homeowners whose properties sustained damage as a result of the explosion to call 724-223-5200.
Staff writers Scott Beveridge, Gideon Bradshaw and Barbara S. Miller contributed to this story.