As Bill Cummins sat inside his Vine Street apartment this morning, he got an early jolt.
He first thought a tractor-trailer hit the building, but later discovered an explosion in the building's laundry room was to blame.
“All you heard was kaboom,” said the 46-year-old, adding that he fled the apartment and called 911. “I saw flames shooting out of the roof. It was pretty scary.”
The Harrisonburg Fire Department responded to the blaze at 936 Vine St. shortly before 7 a.m.
Chief Larry Shifflett said heavy flames were still visible when firefighters arrived.
“It was a pretty good fire, but once we had people on the scene, it didn't last long,” said Shifflett. “We had it knocked down in about 20 minutes.”
Shifflett said the explosion was caused by a propane gas leak. The chief said there was someone in the laundry room about an hour before the blast but that person said they didn’t notice anything that smelled funny.
“There is some accidental damage to the pipe that shouldn’t have been caused by the explosion,” said Shifflett. “Someone could have moved a machine. There are several different ways it could have been damaged but we will probably never know exactly what.”
Despite the explosion, he said residents shouldn’t be worried about using propane or natural gas in their homes.
“They are both very safe fuels for use,” he said. “When they are contained in their supply vessels and pipes they are very safe in use. It’s when there is a breach that lets the gas out is when we have problems. I doesn’t happen very often, but this morning it did.”
The laundry room was destroyed, but the fire didn’t spread to any apartments. However, six people are displaced due to smoke and water damage. The American Red Cross is working to find them temporary housing.
Shifflett said he’s grateful that no one was inside the room when it exploded. He said the blast was powerful.
“If there would have been someone in the laundry room, I suspect would have been dealing with a fatality,” said Shifflett.