By Brendan Berls,Herald Staff Writer -A freak mishap with a household appliance is to blame for a thunderous propane explosion that obliterated a family’s home in a quiet Hopatcong neighborhood, according to police. The blast, reportedly felt for miles around, rocked the Hopatcong Hills section of town just after 2:30 p.m. on Thursday just days after the house’s new owners, Marlon and Brunie Warren, had moved in.
No one was home at the time, but the family cat was and perished in the flames, police said. On Friday, local detectives investigating the fire interviewed the homeowners and learned there had been a propane delivery to the home about two hours before the explosion.
The Warrens, who have two small children, had also just bought a washing machine and dryer which would have relied on propane as its heat source, Hopatcong police Lt. Michael Siciliano said. But the line connecting the dryer and the outdoor tank had a leak, and, with the house empty, the extremely flammable gas slowly filled the house until its hot water heater activated automatically. “When the hot water heater kicks on, it’s either electrical or it you have some other heat source, and when it came into contact with the gas, it went off,” Siciliano said. The explosion knocked the house off its foundation, and the entire structure was completely engulfed in flames within seconds.
A car on the driveway about 20 feet away from the house was partially melted on the passenger side, and tree leaves 30 feet up were burned.”My whole house shook,” said Mario Cicero, 13, who lives two streets away. “The smoke kept moving in clouds and coming down the hill.”
Although many neighborhoods in Hopatcong are tightly packed with converted bungalows, the yard of the Warrens’ house was big enough that neighboring homes escaped damage.