PAWTUCKET — A man was severely burned and a baby injured in a house explosion in a triple-decker at 422 Mineral Spring Ave. on Tuesday morning.
Police and fire officials are looking at natural gas as the cause, although the incident remains under investigation. A large crew of National Grid officials, along with investigators from the state Fire Marshal’s Office, were in and around the scene by the afternoon.
The violent explosion at around 10 a.m. tore the front corner off of both the second- and third-floor apartments, and then prompted a smoky blaze. Firefighters, including units from surrounding areas, responded quickly and continuously directed heavy streams of water at the flames, but the roof and the second- and third-floor apartments were completely destroyed.
Later in the day, Police Major Arthur Martins reported that the house was deemed a safety hazard and would have to be torn down. He said Mineral Spring Avenue would be closed to all traffic (vehicular and pedestrian) from Hope Street to Lorraine Street, and he did not know when it would be re-opened.
Several passers-by described seeing the shocked tenants inside the third-floor unit, where a woman and a man appeared to be both pushing at different sides of a door in an apparent attempt to get to a baby. All three made it outside, aided by the heroic actions of several men who happened to be in the area when the blast occurred.
A young woman who lived with her boyfriend on the first floor, along with their dog, also escaped without injury, and a woman who lived on the second floor was reportedly not home at the time of the fire.
However, police and fire officials said they were still trying to sort our exactly who occupied the building and were not releasing any names.
The injured man was taken to Rhode Island Hospital. He reportedly suffered burns to about 70 percent of his body. The baby was taken to Hasbro Children’s Hospital and the child’s condition is unknown.
Robert Garrey, of Central Falls and his girlfriend, Christina Raymond, who lives across the street from the apartment house, said they were headed to a doctor’s appointment and had just driven up the block when they heard the blast. They saw debris flying and the front walls of the house open up, where they could view the people inside. They quickly turned the car around, and Garrey ran to a side door facing Hurley Avenue.
Garrey said he and a couple of other men who had stopped to help entered the apartment house and kicked in several doors, trying to alert the tenants. He said he and others helped the couple on the third floor as they located a baby and made it outside.
“The man looked to be burned badly. His skin looked like it was peeling off,” said Garrey. The woman was unclothed, and he and the others tried to help her to cover up and leave with the baby, he said.
When asked if he had been nervous about entering the fire scene, Garrey said he simply reacted. “Anyone would have done that in that situation,” he said.
Several media reports identified others who helped the tenants evacuate as Jermaine Woods, an off-duty Providence firefighter, and Eric Silva, a first-floor tenant.
Anny Alvarez, of the Bronx, N.Y., said she had been visiting friends who lived across the street from the apartment when she heard a loud ‘boom’ that she thought was from a car accident. “Then, all the lights went off. I saw half of the building was down, and a naked woman trying to push something. There was no fire right then,” she said.
Alvarez said the woman seemed to have been coming from the bathroom and both she and the man been trying to get to a baby’s room. She said she was touched by the way the man took care of trying to cover up the woman and the baby and getting them outside before considering his own safety. “He was burning and he was trying to cover his family up,” she said. She added that the woman “didn’t get burned because of him. It was amazing to see a man care so much for his family,” she added.
A young woman who lived on the first floor stood holding her dog and watched tearfully as the firefighters continued to train water on the charred remains of the building. She said she had moved into the apartment only about five weeks ago, and didn’t know what to think when she heard the loud blast. “It’s my boyfriend’s birthday today,” she stated. “And now all this.”
Tenants in two buildings the St. Germain Manor public housing complex, directly across the street from the explosion scene, were evacuated to a community room as a precaution. An employee who works at the complex said that several tenants described the blast being loud enough to blow them off the couch they were sitting on.
Tony Pires, director of administration and the city’s public safety director, said the house had been vacant for a long time until mid-October, when tenants moved in. In September, the owner had taken out building permits for work to be done, including the installation of a new natural gas heating system. He said, however, that the city’s building and zoning office appears to have no record of the building inspector ever being called back to inspect the work, which is supposed to be done before tenants are allowed to move it. He added, however, that the determination about inspections as well as the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Until its recent renovations, the house, at the corner of Mineral Spring and Hurley Avenue, had been a target of break-ins and vandalism, so much so that someone had spray painted “No copper inside” on an exterior wall.
Follow Donna Kirwan on Twitter@KirwanDonna