Saturday, 2:15 PM
Man, 85, killed in Manchester house explosion
(AP Photo/Jim Cole)
By John R. Ellement and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff, and Michele Richinick, Globe Correspondent
MANCHESTER, N.H. -- A fiery blast leveled a home here early this morning and killed an 85-year-old man in the fourth house explosion in New England since December, police and witnesses said.
Responding firefighters at 2:45 a.m. found the home on Barrett Street engulfed in "a huge ball of flame" that could been seen at least four blocks away, said District Fire Chief Al Poulin. The blast completely splintered the home, leaving behind rubble reminiscent of bombed-out buildings during wartime. All that remained standing was a brick fireplace and a brick three-step stoop rising to the empty space once occupied by the front door.
Firefighters found the victim in a rear bedroom "still in his bedding," Poulin said. His name has not officially been released. Neighbors identified him as Joseph Byk.
Byk is the father of Joseph Byk Jr., a selectman in Peterborough, N.H., who rushed to Manchester when he learned of the explosion. Joseph Jr. was "very distraught," said Peterborough town administrator Pamela Brenner.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to Joe at this very moment," Brenner said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion at 160 Barrett St. Natural gas crews have not had any calls for service for leaks, repairs, or equipment upgrades in the neighborhood for several years, according to National Grid spokesman David Graves. Neighbors have not reported smelling gas prior to the explosion, Graves said, and no gas leaks were detected after the blast.
"It's a mystery," Graves said.
A 6-inch stainless steel natural gas supply line is buried beneath the street near Byk's home, he said.
Chris Wyman, of the New Hampshire state fire marshal's office, said that the investigation was still in the preliminary stages.
"Nothing has been ruled in or out," Wyman said. "Everything is on the table … We haven't draw any conclusions."
The explosion rattled the city's North End neighborhood.
"There were just ashes everywhere and embers flying everywhere," said Constantina Papanicolau, who lives a few doors down on Barrett Street.
Byk lived alone after his wife died five years ago, Papanicolau said, describing him as a quiet man who liked to garden. He took great care of a purple hydrangea.
On Thursday, an apparent natural gas explosion in Somerset, Mass., killed Rose Marie Rebello, 62, and her dog. The blast leveled Rebello's home and forced 200 neighbors to evacuate. Utility crews had responded to the neighbor for reports of an overwhelming smell of gas. Officials have not released the cause of the blast, but investigators are examining part of the gas main buried beneath the street in front of Rebello's home.
In December, a man died in a home in Scituate in a natural gas explosion. Last month, another was severely injured in Gloucester when a natural gas explosion leveled his home.
Nationally, between 1998 and 2008, 323 people died and 1,341 were injured as the result of gas leaks or explosions, according to the US Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Over the same period in Massachusetts, six people died and 12 were injured as a result of leaks and explosions.