'Suspicious' Gas Explosion Levels Westville Home
A vacant home on Chestnut Street is destroyed by a blast and subsequent fire.
A gas explosion that Westville police said is suspicious leveled a vacant home in the 200 block of Chestnut Street Friday afternoon.
The early-afternoon blast shook homes along the block, but could be felt more than 10 blocks away on the other side of town, according to several residents. Ron Svitak was talking with his wife, who was sitting in their van in their driveway on Oak Avenue, when the explosion happened.
“The van shook, and I could feel it in my body,” he said.
Little was left of the two-story home after the explosion; the roof sat in the back yard and a piece of outer wall from the upstairs came to rest in the empty lot next door.
Authorities suspect a natural gas leak as the cause of the explosion. The explosion ignited a fire and demolished the house, which was recently put up for sale after being unoccupied for two years, the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office said. The homeowner reported a metal pipe theft from the home several days ago.
Although firefighters extinguished flames within an hour, the smoldering remains made it impossible to conduct a search for anyone inside the home. Officials ordered backhoes to the scene to excavate the debris, but any in-depth examination of the remains will likely take hours because the home collapsed into the basement, the prosecutor's office said.
Neighbors reported a man running from the home around the time of the explosion, but the prosecutor's office said the man is "a neighbor and a member of a local fire company and not a suspect."
The explosion and subsequent fire brought in Westville firefighters and fire departments from around the area, including Colonial Manor and Verga, as well as Gloucester City, National Park and a specialized unit from Cherry Hill. They brought the fire under control just after 2 p.m., hitting the charred rubble with huge streams from several trucks.
Neighbors said the house had been empty for around two years, and had been in foreclosure for some time.
The incident is currently under investigation.
Editor's note: This story was updated with additional information at 4:45 p.m. Sept. 14.