This is all that remains of the Gish family home on Calvary Church Road in Lower Windsor Twp. Police said the home exploded just before 5 a.m. Thursday.
This is all that remains of the Gish family home on Calvary Church Road in Lower Windsor Twp. Police said the home exploded just before 5 a.m. Thursday. (Courtesy of York Fire Wire)

FRIDAY UPDATE:

Lower Windsor Township Police Chief Tim Caldwell said investigators have not yet determined what caused a bomb-like explosion that destroyed the home of Dr. Jonathan Gish and his family Thursday morning.

"That (ruling) probably will not come out until the middle of next week," he said.

REPORTED EARLIER:

An explosion with the force of a bomb leveled a Lower Windsor Township home at about 5 a.m. Thursday.

"It looks like somebody dropped a bomb," township Police Chief Tim Caldwell said. "The only thing left standing is part of a chimney with a cross on it."

No one from the five-member family that lived in the two-story structure was home at the time, the chief said.

Neighbors reported hearing the explosion -- and seeing the subsequent fireball -- from miles away. (Courtesy of York Fire Wire)
Neighbors reported hearing the explosion -- and seeing the subsequent fireball -- from miles away. (Courtesy of York Fire Wire)

"God Almighty was watching out for them today," Caldwell said.

Anyone inside would have been killed by the explosion that rocked the township, East Prospect and Canadochly, he said.

911 calls poured in: The York County 911 Center was flooded with calls from residents who mistook the blast for an intruder banging on their doors, according to Caldwell.

Dr. Jonathan Gish, who works at Lancaster General Hospital, was in Maryland fishing or camping when his house exploded, the chief said.

Wife Karen Gish and at least two of their three children were camping in Dauphin County.

Two state police fire marshals and an investigator from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are now combing through the debris of the home at 150 Calvary Church Road, the chief said.

The blast is not thought to be suspicious, but rather "some sort of malfunction," according to Caldwell.

There is a large in-ground propane tank on the property, but the chief said it's not yet known whether the tank had anything to do with the explosion.

As of Thursday afternoon, investigators had not yet determined what caused the explosion, police said.

Devastation: The scene is one of devastation, said Caldwell — mattresses and bed sheets tangled high in the limbs of tall trees and "just a bunch of smoldering ash.

(Courtesy of Red Lion Fire Co.)
"

"There is a hole in the ground where the house used to be," the chief said. "That's the basement."

One firefighter was taken to a local hospital by ambulance for heat exhaustion, he said.

'Blessed': Karen Gish said she's thankful she, her husband and their children — ages 21, 19 and 15 — are safe.

"We're not lucky, we're blessed," she said. "Very blessed."

She said although she and her family lost all their possessions, it's OK. And they are insured.

"It's just things," she said. "I'm at peace. Really I am."

Even the family dog, a German shepherd named Briere, survived.

Dog injured: He was outside when the home exploded and was hit by some debris, Karen Gish said.

He's at the vet's (office) now," she said.

Homeowner Karen Gish.
Homeowner Karen Gish. (BILL KALINA - bkalina@yorkdispatch.com)

Gish said the explosion isn't the end of anything.

"It's a new beginning for us," she said. "This is not the end."

Gish briefly began to choke up while saying all their photographs are gone.

But her mood quickly brightened. She said that "all that matters is the eternal."

And, she said, there are many memories that are still with her.

'Like a cannon': Neighbor Carol Lentz lives across the street from the entrance to the Gish family's long, winding driveway.

Lentz heard the explosion at 4:51 a.m.

"My husband was upstairs. He thought a wall or something collapsed in the basement," she said. "It shook the house. It was like a cannon going off."

The Gish home is hidden from the road by a hill, so Lentz and her family couldn't see the devastation. But they could see the subsequent fire.

Orange glow: "The hill was bright orange from the fire," she said. "That was all you could see."

Lentz grew up on Calvary Church Road and moved into her current home there 16 years ago, just before the Gish family moved in, Lentz said.

"Karen and John and the kids are a wonderful family," she said.

After the home exploded, Lentz's daughter notified a close friend of Karen Gish's, who also is a neighbor.

That person was able to contact Karen Gish and break the bad news to her, Lentz said.

"We're just thankful the Gishes were not home," she said.

The damage: Chief Caldwell said the blast blew pieces of the home and its contents perhaps 100 yards in every direction.

The Gishes' unattached garage is still standing, but wooden 2-by-4 boards impaled the garage roof and area still sticking out of it, he said.

Bricks from the home are scattered everywhere, Caldwell added.

A Maryland State Police helicopter circled the property, landed, then took off and circled the area again.

Police said the helicopter was picking up ATF investigators to give them an aerial view of the scene.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com.