Explosion injures man, destroys house in Penn Township

Fire crews were called to this fire on Baltimore Street in Penn Township Saturday, March 17, 2018.

An explosion at a house in Penn Township Saturday afternoon sent one man to the hospital by helicopter and destroyed the house, according to a fire chief.

Hanover Area Fire and Rescue crews were dispatched to the 600 block of Baltimore Street in Penn Township about 1:50 p.m. Saturday, March 17, for reports of a house explosion with an individual on fire.

The victim was burned to the extent that he had to be airlifted to a burn or trauma center, said Fire Chief Tony Clousher. He was still inside the front door of his apartment when crews arrived.

Clousher believed there might have been a tenant in the southside first-floor apartment still inside as well.

“I came out of my building just as it exploded,” said Dwight Resh, who lives on the street parallel to Baltimore.

He said he saw the side of the building falling and a man coming out of one of the apartments with his clothes on fire. Someone threw something on the man to put it out, Resh said.

Firefighters were called to the scene of this blaze on Baltimore Street in Penn Township on Saturday, March 17, 2018. Lindsay Vansadalan photo

Resh also said he could feel the explosion from the other side of the street — it rattled his windows.

KC Barrington, a resident who lives several houses down the street from the burnt home, said he heard popping noises when the house exploded. He thought he was hearing a car crash until he came outside and saw the smoke.

Many neighbors and bystanders were gathered along the street, which was sectioned off with yellow caution tape, as fire crews responded to the aftermath of the explosion. Several said they were driving by when they stopped to see what happened. 

Shane Lukens stopped because his grandfather's barber shop was across the street. A friend of his who lives on the street told him he put someone out with his coat who was on fire.

Three-alarm fire: Crews from the fire department's Clover Lane station, four blocks south of the scene, were the first to respond, noting a huge amount of black smoke and requesting a working fire assignment and a second alarm, according to Clousher.

He said his assistant chief upgraded the fire to a third alarm after coming from the north side.

When the captain from the first truck arrived, he called for 1,000 gallons per minute to douse the burn, Clousher said.

"They hit it pretty hard," he said.

Many area fire departments joined Hanover Area Fire and Rescue to aid at the scene, including Pleasant Hill Volunteer Fire Co., Southeastern Adams Volunteer Emergency Services,  Porters Community Fire Co. and United Hook and Ladder Co. No. 33.

A fire was reported on Baltimore Street in Penn Township on March 17, 2018.

Clousher said initial reports were of an explosion on the north side of the house — which contained four apartments, one on each side of the first and second floor.

Don Jackson manages the building, which his late mother-in-law owned, and said there was one man in an upstairs apartment and one in a downstairs apartment of the double house.

Behind the building is another attached apartment with a first and second floor, which was untouched, he said.

Red Cross is assisting in the displacement of residents who lived in the building that sustained the fire and those who lived in the one behind, Clousher said.

Natural gas? Clousher said the cause is yet undetermined, but state police and fire marshals will be investigating with the Penn Township Police Department.

“Anytime you have an explosion, the first thing that comes to mind is, was it natural gas?” he said.

Four gas meters on the north side of the house were covered with debris, Clousher said, and Columbia Gas was going to dig up and shut the line off at the street in case the meters were damaged.

Damages: As far as cost of damages, Clousher said, “I don’t even know where to start.”

The building would be razed Saturday night, he said, because it was structurally unsafe as it stood.

Clousher said the building on the north side of the one that was on fire sustained some damage from the explosion, including thermal damage, but no structural damage inside.

An aerial assessment will determine if it will be safe to go into any parts of the building before fire marshals arrive.

Clouser expected to be on the scene until about midnight, and he said Baltimore Street where it intersects with Wirt Avenue will be closed to traffic.

In his 22 years of service, Clousher said he’s never seen anything like this in Hanover or Penn Township.