People were hugging and crying on the street, as the house at 3929 Highland Avenue burned to the ground.
A block away from the fire, Robert Gorrell’s wife and children heard and felt the explosion while he was in the basement.
“They came running down and screaming, saying that they heard a big explosion and I ran outside and looked down the street and sure enough, it was fully engulfed,” said Gorrell.
Even people on other streets turned up at the scene, having heard and felt the blast blocks away.
“All of a sudden, I heard this big bang and I thought, ‘Oh God, what’s wrong with my house?’ ” said Lee Powell of Shadyside.
A man who lives across the street said he actually shouted through the walls to the man trapped in the burning house.
“I heard the explosion,” said the neighbor, who did not want to be identified. “I ran outside and saw the house was destroyed. I went over and was hollering to see if anyone was inside. I heard a voice. I kept on trying to tell him to find a way out. There was a propane tank on fire. Then the police came over and told me I needed to vacate the area before the propane tank exploded.”
The initial blast had shot the roof into the air, landing on the street.
“We had witnesses who said the house literally blew apart,” said Chief Dave Lenz of the O,R & W Fire District. “The house to the south of it, the exposure house, also caught fire. We were able to save that house.”
Officials say the man who lived in the house was killed in the blaze, while his wife and daughter were out.
They arrived soon afterward.
Neighbors grouped around, comforting them.
Multiple fire departments turned out, containing the blaze until the house was burned to the ground.
They say they recovered the man’s body afterward.
It’s a difficult scenario for firefighters.
“Our people are taught to save lives,” said Chief Lenz. “And when they’re unable to get inside–and the first crew on the scene was obviously not able to make a rescue–that’s really tough on all of us.”
They have ruled out a natural gas explosion.
They have called in the state fire marshal’s office to investigate the cause, which is standard procedure when there’s been a death.