The explosion that obliterated a house in Stafford Tuesday morning was sparked after natural gas from a nearby leak interacted with an open flame in the structure’s basement, authorities announced.
After an extensive examination, investigations determined that the blast originated in the utility room of 59 Oak Avenue, according to a release from Al Della Fave, spokesman for the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office.
“The cause of the explosion was determined to be accidental by natural gas leaking from a 2-inch natural gas main in the street of Oak Avenue, communicating along the water main into the basement of the structure and ultimately igniting from an open flame of the structure’s utilities, causing the explosion,” he said.
Stafford police and firefighters were dispatched to the intersection of Route 9 southbound and Oak Avenue at 8:55 a.m. Tuesday following a report a strong natural gas odor, according to Della Fave.
Emergency personnel met with New Jersey Natural Gas employees and detected the strongest odor in front of 55 Oak Avenue.
Police and firefighters began evacuating the surrounding structures, while personnel from New Jersey Natural Gas attempted to locate the source of the odor.
The blast, which was felt for miles away and sent debris flying in every direction, occurred around 10:32 a.m., as the gas utility employees were attempting to access the gas main located in front of 59 Oak Avenue.
“Emergency personnel immediately conducted a rescue of all personnel in the area injured by the blast,” the spokesman said.
New Jersey Natural Gas employee Dean Barnett, 47, of Stafford was most seriously injured and airlifted to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City, where he is currently listed in critical condition, according to Della Fave.
Southern Ocean Medial Center in Stafford received two gas utility employees for non-life threatening injuries and three for observation. Additionally, six Stafford Fire Department firefighters were transported to the Stafford hospital for observation.
Della Fave says Stafford police will issue a comprehensive list naming all those injuries and their conditions later today.
The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Arson Unit, with assistance from Stafford Township Police Department, Ocean County Sheriff’s Department CSI, and Ocean County Fire Marshall, partnered to conduct the investigation into the origin and cause of the explosion.