Stafford explosion determined to be accidental
The explosion of a home in Stafford Township on Tuesday has been determined to be accidental to according to a joint investigation by the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office, Stafford Township Police Department, Ocean County Sheriff’s Department CSI, and Ocean County Fire Marshall.
The investigation concludes there was a leaking and cracked second gas main running parallel to a water main going into the the basement utility room of a home at 59 Oak Avenue. The explosion was ultimately ignited by an open flame of the structure’s utilities.
Al Della Fave, a spokesman for the prosecutor's office, said the extent of the damage made it impossible to say which appliance touched off the blast.
A New Jersey Natural Gas crew and Stafford Township Police and Fire were already on the street investigating the strong smell of gas on the street two houses down, at 55 Oak Avenue, when the home at 59 Oak Avenue exploded. Several homes had already been evacuated trying to find the cause of the smell.
NJNG employee, Dean Barnett, 47, of Stafford was the most seriously injured in the blast and was airlifted to Atlanticare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City and remains in critical condition. Ed Jones of Marlton remains at the hospital's trauma unit in stable condition. Five other NJNG employees were taken to Southern Ocean County Medical Center for non-life threatening injuries.They are identified as Bill Sinclair of Manahawkin, Anthony Widmer of Manahawkin, Chris Smith from Pine Beach, Henry Garcia of Whiting and Carlos Rojas from Eagleswood.
Six Stafford Fire Department Firefighters were transported to Southern Ocean County Hospital for observation and have been released. They are Chief Jack Johnson and fire fighters Matt Dodds, John Fugee, Rick Pumphrey, George Yockachonis and Al Merlino. Stafford Towmship EMS members Robert Keegan and Richard Drucker were also hospitalized and released.
Tuesday morning's natural gas explosion leveled a house under renovation and unoccupied as utility crews investigated reports of a gas leak. The blast could be felt for several miles around the Ocean County community.
Crews were finally able to begin restoring service to 300 homes around midnight after making sure all the gas leaks were contained. Utility workers are going door-to-door, according to an updated message posted on Wednesday morning, to restore service. Police ask for patience from residents.
Many residents, however, left their homes for shelter set up by the Township and will not have service until they return home. Residents must be present in order to have service restored as NJNG workers must be inside the home. Police mentioned that all service workers will have credentials displayed for residents.The police will have a large presence in the neighborhood during the restoration period as well.
Many who live close to the blast site remained without heat on Wednesday. "I got a wall that's blown in the back, I've got ceiling coming down in one of the bedrooms, door frames blown out, can't close my back door, there's no heat," said Lyn Thomas, who lives across the street from the blast site. "Fortunately, the pipes aren't frozen yet. If the gas company doesn't get here pretty soon, they will."
Oak Avenue remains closed to traffic between Route 9 and Doc Cramer Boulevard on Wednesday afternoon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report