YARMOUTH, Maine — Emergency personnel went to the scene of a large explosion early Tuesday at two homes on Gables Drive, off North Road, in which one man died and three others were injured.
Several agencies sent mutual aid to the scene, including the Portland, Topsham, Freeport and Brunswick fire departments, people at the scene reported.
Investigators from the state fire marshal’s office and members of the state’s Solid Fuel Board continue to work on the cause of the explosion, which leveled a two-unit building in Yarmouth owned by Walter Corey.
The man who died in the explosion is believed to be Peter Corey, 66, according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
Three other nearby residents suffered minor injuries and were treated and released, McCausland said. They include Robert and Rosemary MacKay, who occupied the other half of the building, and Mary Hallsey, who occupied an adjacent building.
Sgt. Ken Grimes of the State Fire Marshal’s Office said investigators are considering a propane leak to be a possibility, but said that so far they “do not have any specific details about what transpired or why this happened.”
McCausland said that propane was the only source of fuel for heating and hot water. He also said that fire investigators say some of the other buildings are uninhabitable and an engineering firm has been hired to conduct an assessment of them.
Grimes said an aerial search by helicopter took place to provide investigators a sense of the diameter of the blast, and said they found damage up to 200 yards in all directions from the explosion.
Yarmouth Police Chief Michael Morrill told reporters that a structural engineer will assess the stability of the remaining properties in the condominium community before residents are allowed back in.
He did not give a timetable for that process.
Amory Houghton, one of three members of the North Gables Condominium Association executive committee, was in his garage cleaning when the blast occurred.
“Our understanding is that he didn’t make it,” he said of Peter Corey, who he said is handicapped. “It was a pretty major concussion. It was one big bang. There was no after-effect, no fire — nothing after the blast.”
Houghton said there are seven buildings in the condominium group with a total of 14 units, two per building.
Photographer Donald Verger, who lives nearby in Falmouth, said he heard what sounded like an explosion just before 6:20 a.m. Tuesday. Verger said he was near the Boston Marathon finish line when those explosions rang out, and said the “concussive” sound he heard Tuesday morning was similar.
“I felt my whole house shake. I thought someone drove into my house,” said Read Thurston, who lives a half-mile from the explosion. “It felt like a bomb. My entire house shook.”
Brianne Johnston, who lives three-tenths of a mile from the scene, was just leaving for work, her husband told the BDN.
“My son and I were still asleep. The blast woke us both up, of course,” Jay Johnston said. “I thought our grill propane tank exploded it sounded that close. The whole house shook for about 10 seconds. It was very unsettling, it was so quiet right after. Then the police and fire sirens came right after.”
Mark Harlow, who lives a quarter mile away on Melissa Drive, was outside getting the mail when the blast rang out.
“I felt the ground shake. I’ve never felt anything like that in my life,” he said.
Tanner Smith of Yarmouth Point, about a half-mile away, reported seeing “white, cotton-like stuff falling out of the sky. I found out later it was insulation.”
“This is devastating and I feel for the whole neighborhood,” said Steve Woods, chairman of Yarmouth Town Council. “We’re scheduled to have natural gas here in Yarmouth sometime in the next year, but there is no natural gas in this area. So there’s been some speculation that that could have been a factor [but it couldn’t have been]. At this point, all I know is that there’s been an explosion and the whole neighborhood’s devastated.”
Voting in Yarmouth’s local elections was scheduled at the Amvets hall, but was moved to the Town Hall.
The Forecaster and Bangor Daily News reporter Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.