FARMINGTON, Maine (CBS/AP) — A powerful propane explosion leveled a recently opened nonprofit center after crews arrived to investigate the smell of gas Monday morning, killing one firefighter and injuring six other people, including fellow firefighters, officials said.
The building had been evacuated after the smell of gas was detected, said Farmington Town Selectman Scott Landry.
Photos here show the explosion aftermath in Farmington @wgme
📸: Jacob Gage pic.twitter.com/a1lnzR9n2T
— Katie Sampson (@KatieWGME) September 16, 2019
The blast injured four other firefighters, one employee of the nonprofit center and one ambulance worker, officials said.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office identified the firefighter killed in the blast as Capt. Michael Bell. The 68-year-old had been a member of the department for 30 years. His brother, Fire Chief Terry Bell, was among the injured.
“It was just total devastation, I’ve never seen destruction like that in my career, I’ve been in law enforcement 35 years, I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life,” said Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols.
Maine Medical Center tweeted Monday afternoon that four of the injured are being treated in the intensive care unit.
The building housing Leap Inc., which serves people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities, was only a couple of weeks old, Landry said. A hole is all that is left.
“It’s a war zone. It’s just a mess,” Landry said. “The new building is spread all over creation.”
The blast around 8:30 a.m. was heard for miles around and had enough force to blow a vehicle across an intersection. Video shows debris raining down on homes and buildings in the neighborhood.
Employee Lisa Marston said she was evacuated from building just minutes before the blast.
“It was pretty devastating. . . things were just flying everywhere,” she said.
Kim Hilton, who works in the admissions department at the nearby University of Maine at Farmington, said there were scary moment when the blast occurred.
“It felt like someone hit our building with a vehicle,” she said.
Gov. Janet Mills said she is “closely monitoring the explosion.”
Our hearts go out to all those impacted by this tragedy, especially to the loved ones of the firefighter lost and others injured. I am grateful for the work of first responders who are at the scene and urge Maine people to avoid the area. (2/2)
— Governor Janet Mills (@GovJanetMills) September 16, 2019
“The State Fire Marshal’s Office will thoroughly investigate the cause and origin of this devastating explosion,” she tweeted.
The 40-by-60-foot (12-by-18-meter), two-story building, which served as the administrative offices for LEAP, opened eight to 10 weeks ago and wasn’t yet fully staffed, Landry said.
Farmington is about 70 miles north of Portland.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)