Franklin, NJ- By SARAH N. LYNCH, Herald Staff Writer – A borough family narrowly escaped from their mobile home before it burst into flames in a propane explosion Thursday afternoon. An Ogdensburg firefighter died shortly after responding to the scene.
The Sussex County Prosecutors Office said the fire was apparently caused by a propane delivery companys failure to disconnect a delivery hose before its truck pulled away. Leaking gas was ignited, sparking the fire. The source of the ignition is still under investigation.
A spokesman for Franklin-based Ferrellgas confirmed that the company delivered propane to a home in Franklin before a fire broke out.
William Bill Pierce collapsed while fighting the fire and was pronounced dead at approximately 4 p.m. at Saint Clares Hospital in Sussex Borough.
According to Assistant Franklin Fire Chief Jason Doyle, the fire occurred around 2 p.m. after the propane truck arrived at a mobile home on Woodbine Avenue to fill the tanks at the back of the house.
Daryl and Joy Martin lived in the home destroyed by Thursdays fire, according to their daughter-in-law Terry Martin. The Martins daughter Wendy Jones of Vernon and Jones 5-day-old baby girl, Lindsay Williams, were visiting and escaped with them.
They were all in the home and they saw the truck pull away with the hose still attached, Terry Martin said. They could not get out through the front door because of the fumes from the tank, so they managed to get out the back door and down two houses, she said.
Then, the home exploded, she said.Ferrellgas spokesman Scott Brockelmeyer said the company delivered 36 gallons of propane to a 200-pound cylinder Thursday afternoon, and what I know after that was there was a fire at this residence.
The house was almost completely consumed in flames by the time the first arriving units got to the scene, said Phillip Crabb, the boroughs emergency management coordinator.
Terry Martin said the house is completely leveled and the family also had two cats inside the mobile home when it exploded. For the time being, her in-laws will stay with their daughter Wendy, Terry Martin said.
They are just happy theyre alive, she said. They are happy they got out.Residents of the mobile home complex watched outside their homes as firemen sifted through the remnants of the singed home, one side of which appeared to be melted. The roof in the middle part of the home was completely sunken in.
Roberto Figueroa, a neighbor of the Martins, stood on the street holding a tray of hot beverages for the emergency workers. He said he witnessed the explosion from his window.I was sitting right on my bed … and I had my blinds open, Figueroa said.
I was watching TV with my son and suddenly, I see two ladies and a guy running down the road with fear in their faces. I looked this way towards the house and thats exactly when I saw the explosion occur.
Figueroa said the explosion was so strong, it blew out all of the Martin homes windows and shook his house.This is the first time Ive experienced an explosion as it happened, he said. Thinking about it causes me to shake. The mobile homes service wire was also damaged in the fire.
Wires were snapping off. I could hear them cracking, said Charlie Matto, who also lives down the street from the Martins. It sounded like little fireworks.
Doyle, the Franklin assistant fire chief, said the Sussex County Prosecutors Office and an arson unit are investigating the fire. First Assistant Prosecutor William Fitzgibbons also said an inspector from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs was called to the site Thursday.
According to E.J. Miranda, a spokesman for the department, Ferrellgas has two bulk facilities and seven small facilities in Sussex County.
He said there have been no outstanding safety complaints against the company and when the facilities were recently inspected, there were only minor violations at eight of the nine locations all of which have been corrected. Franklin, Ogdensburg and Hardyston Fire departments and Franklin and Sparta EMS responded to the scene. Franklin Police Department, the Sussex County fire marshal, state fire marshal, the New Jersey state police arson unit and the Sussex County Prosecutors office are investigating the explosion.