Mount Olive, NJ – A vacant house in Flanders exploded on Thursday morning, collapsing and sending windows and even the chimney flying hundreds of feet.
Authorities on Thursday night still were investigating to determine the cause of the blast.
The vacant single-story farmhouse at 500 Drakestown Road was leveled by the explosion at about 9:45 a.m. Police said they are looking into whether a propane tank was the source of the blast. There are no natural gas lines leading into the home, they said.
The Morristown Fire Department’s Urban Area Security Initiative Metro Strike Team led an extensive search into the evening to ensure that no one was inside the home at the time of the blast, according to Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi.
“The house was completely demolished,” Bianchi said from the scene at about 5 p.m.
“The owners were not living in the home, but God forbid a squatter or kids were staying there. Our teams are layering through everything as best they can, but we’ll be bringing in heavy equipment to lift the debris.”
The home, which sat on a 5.5-acre property with a barn and a detached garage — both of which were unaffected by the blast — was purchased by Lenape Acres LLC of Elizabeth in January.
A man who identified himself only as Vince D., who said he was a construction manager for Lenape Acres, said the company intended to renovate the house and eventually make it a country store with horses grazing on the property.
It already had begun renovating the barn, but work on the house was far off, he said.
“I don’t know what this is about. This is an anomaly to me,” Vince D. said.
“There was no work being done on the house. I was there (Wednesday) morning to check up on the progress. Everything seemed normal.”
Three workers from Big Foot Contractors were working on the barn when the house exploded.
Joe Azevedo, one of the workers, said he was standing on scaffolding on the side of the barn away from the house when he heard the blast.
“When the house blew up, I felt a jump in my heart,” Azevedo said. “The barn started shaking. I am glad I have my life.”
All the workers were unscathed.
Kathy De Filippis, who lives two doors away, said she awoke from a nap to a loud boom. She said her bedroom window was open about 3 inches and some dirt flew into the room and landed on her bed.
“It was the loudest boom I’ve ever heard,” De Filippis said. “I thought it was an earthquake.”
De Filippis said she went outside to see what happened and smelled a faint odor of gas in the air. She saw that the house was a pile of glass, debris and lumber. Its chimney had flown into a neighbor’s yard and a window frame from the home was hanging in a tree.
The flying debris caused some minor damage to a neighboring home, said Mount Olive Police Sgt. Scott Van Ness. He said several nearby residents reported that they smelled gas in the air and worried whether there was any danger, but authorities determined that there was no threat, he said.
Several of the home’s neighbors said the previous owner, Diedre Cowap, used the farmland, surrounded by a white fence, as a respite for miniature horses and homeless dogs. Cowap reportedly lived there for a decade.
“The house had become so dilapidated and the property was unkempt,” De Filippis said. “We were happy that someone had bought it, and that it would be fixed up.”
Vince D. said Lenape Acres was uncertain whether it would move forward with its plans.
“The home was dilapidated and unlivable as it stood, but we weren’t planning on tearing it down,” he said. “This has set us back.”
A stretch of Drakestown Road between Cathy Lane and Four Bridges Road, where the house is located, was closed for most of the day for the investigation.
The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crimes and Arson Unit, the Morris County Sheriff’s Department Criminal Investigations Unit, the Mount Olive Police Department and firefighters from Flanders, Budd Lake, Chester, Roxbury and Paterson assisted.