John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
A contractor working for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission cut into a gas line this morning, causing gas to seep into a Readville home where it detonated around 8:30 a.m. today, leveling the house, an NSTAR spokeswoman said.
The blast at 17 Danny Road led Boston public safety officials to evacuate up to 40 homes, shattered windows in nearby buildings, sent pink insulation spewing into the air, and apparently broke a 95-year-old brick oven used by a beloved neighborhood bakery, neighbors and officials said.
"I was just looking out my back window, and I saw the roof go about 100 feet in the air,'' said Mark Carr, 52, who lives on Como Road. "I felt the shock wave. The whole house shook. It scared the hell out of me.''
The explosion occurred one block from Mayor Thomas M. Menino's home on Chesterfield Street. He was not home, but his wife, Angela was, the mayor said today. She was unharmed.
Homeowner Michael Burns told reporters he left for work in downtown Boston at 6:45 a.m. and then started getting telephone calls telling him his home had been destroyed.
"I just couldn't comprehend it. I just couldn't comprehend what happened,'' he said, saying he had lost all his possessions. Burns said he has insurance.
"Luckily, no one was home,'' said Burns, who has lived in the house for the last nine years. His partner, Bob Hauser, is in California this morning. They did not have any pets.
Caroline Allen, a spokeswoman for NSTAR which supplies natural gas to the neighborhood, said the company had learned that a Boston Water and Sewer contractor was working on Danny Road, replacing a water main.
While digging in the street, the contractor cut into a service line feeding gas into the house, which allowed gas to seep into the house, she said.
The gas was then ignited by some as-yet unknown source, she said. Allen said the gas to the house has been shut off, but it is still being supplied to the neighborhood.
Boston Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said the jostling of the service line caused the gas meter attached to the house to pull away from the house and gas to leak, collecting in the house.
"This obviously is an accident, '' MacDonald said.
MacDonald the ignition source "could have been a hot water heater or a stove, something with a pilot light. We just don't know at this point."
Investigators are currently interviewing contractors to find out what precautionary steps they took during their work on the water main, he said.
He said the workers immediately knew the gravity of what they had done and knocked repeatedly on the house's door to warn residents. Within seconds after the workers gave up, the house exploded.
Allen identified the contractor as DeFelice Corp. of Dracut. Aerial shots by television news helicopters showed a large yellow backhoe with the name DeFelice painted in black perched over a deep hole in Reynold Road.
At the scene, Menino said he could not comment on the cause, citing an ongoing investigation. He said his wife said the explosion felt like an earthquake had hit their home, which was undamaged.
The mayor said the city will do what it can to help Burns rebuild.
He added, "That's the thing about life, you don't know what is going to happen.''
Menino later toured the nearby BC Baking Co. on Como Road where owner Jim Mariano
said he was in the midst of loading his ovens when the explosion took place. "There was a loud explosion and then the building rocked, moving like an earthquake," he said.
Mariano said his 95-year-old brick ovens were cracked.
Boston Fire department spokesman Steve MacDonald said the first 911 call was received around 8:47 a.m. and that the chief on the scene eventually called in a second alarm. An evacuation order covering a large part of the neighborhood is expected to be lifted later today, he said.
Fire officials estimated the damage to the Burns's home at $500,000 and that an additional $500,000 in damage was done to area homes and businesses.
Boston Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis lives close to the scene in Hyde Park. About two hours after the explosion, he was on Reynold Road with his niece and wife, who walked their Cocker Spaniel, Rudy.
"We're very lucky," Davis said.
Neighbor Gertrude Foley, who is 78 years old and housebound, said that the detonation woke her up. Foley said she thought "the world was coming to an end. ... From my back windows I can see white smoke in the air. … All the neighbors ran down, they put coats on over their pajamas.''
Obie Bah, who lives across the street from Burns' home, said she asked the contractors for help this morning when she could not get water supplied to her home as a result of the work underway.
With water restored, Bah said she had just finished taking a shower when the gas ignited.
"I never heard such a noise,'' she said. All of the windows in her home were destroyed, she said. "Right now, I am in shock. I can't believe it happened.''
Globe correspondents Jeff Fish and L. Finch contributed to this report.
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