In his decades-long firefighting career, Haddon Heights Mayor Edward S. Forte Jr. said the home that exploded Saturday afternoon is among the biggest incidents he can recall.
"This is pretty big for us," Forte told Patch from the scene of the incident that sent at least two people to the hospital. One woman was "burned pretty bad," said Haddon Heights Public Safety Director Jack Merryfield.
By about 5 p.m. Saturday, authorities had been working to control the fire for about 90 minutes. Residents from several neighboring towns poured into side streets near the White Horse Pike and Green Street in four directions. Emergency crews from Mt. Ephraim to Bellmawr were on the scene, diverting traffic along the thoroughfare from Station Avenue to Kings Highway.
Camden County officials later announced that stretch of the White Horse Pike would be closed until Sunday night.
The building in question was reportedly a three-story converted home that housed five separate apartment units, and had undergone "a lot of renovations recently," Forte said.
Update, 10 a.m., Feb. 24: Officials continue to search for a cause for the apartment explosion, according to a message from the Haddon Heights Police Department sent out Sunday morning.
“Investigators are back on scene today, Sunday morning, to finalize the investigation. Please let them do their job and do not interrupt them,” the police message read.
“At this time, there is no reason to suspect foul play.”
The property has been cordoned off with fencing for investigators, and also to keep out trespassers, police said.
There was no immediate update on the two victims, who both suffered non-life-threatening injuries. One was taken to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden with minor injuries, and the other to Crozer-Chester Medical Center in Chester, PA, with severe burns.
But police offered a glimmer of heroics:
“We want to thank the immediate response of neighbors whom most likely saved the life of one of the victims: THANK YOU!”
Meanwhile, a cat belonging to one of the building’s residents fled the area. He’s all all-black Maine coon, approximately 20 pounds with green eyes and likes eating green beans.
Update, 5 p.m., Feb. 24:
Camden County Prosecutor's Office spokesman Jason Laughlin released a statement this afternoon that said a natural gas leak seems to be the culprit behind the incident.
"Investigators from my office are still reviewing the scene, but at this point nothing has been discovered which indicates this was an intentionally caused explosion," Laughlin's message read.
"All preliminary scene indications support a natural gas leak as the cause," he wrote. "An investigation remains ongoing and investigators will review the scene again tomorrow."
Laughlin also reported that the fire victim sent to Crozer Chester Hospital "is still in treatment and remains in critical condition."