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House Explosion Rocks Haddon Heights [UPDATE]

Two people were sent to a nearby hospital, at least one of whom was badly burned. Preliminary reports blame a natural gas leak.

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.

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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.

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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."

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Paul J. DiBartolo February 24, 2013 at 04:12 AM
Just DUH fax, ma'am. What's the story here are or we going to have to listen to the TV news-clowns sensationalize the story rather than get any real facts?
Lauren Burgoon February 24, 2013 at 04:59 AM
This is as much info as we had on the story - breaking news. No one was providing info about the cause while the house was still smoldering. We'll give you info as we get it.
Jeremiah Wright February 24, 2013 at 03:41 PM
Relax champ. With any breaking story, details are hard to come by. I thought Patch did a fine job in getting vid on their page pretty quickly.
matt dougherty February 25, 2013 at 09:33 PM
Hope the young women is ok, Wow ! I hear she is very bad !
Bryan Littel February 25, 2013 at 11:39 PM
Yeah, Matt, she was badly burned - we have some more info on her and how folks can help out here: http://collingswood.patch.com/articles/coworkers-of-explosion-victim-organize-relief-efforts

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