Farmington, ME – Tragedy struck early Monday morning when a massive explosion rocked the town, about two hours from Portland, shaking homes in the area, and was felt up to four miles away.
The blast was so powerful it blew a vehicle across an intersection and damaged nearby buildings. Paper, insulation and building debris rained on the area.
CNN reports that Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck said firefighters went to check out a gas smell just after 8 a.m. at the LEAP facility – (Life Enrichment Advancing People) – which had recently been renovated and expanded.
LEAP is a group that provides services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to its website.
When first responders arrived and began investigating the scene, the building exploded, killing 68-year-old Fire Captain, Michael Bell and injuring his brother, Fire Chief, Terry Bell.
Peck described the scene as a war zone, not dissimilar to what he had seen on active duty overseas.
Three full-time firefighters, a building employee, and an ambulance worker were also injured, according to Peck. Most suffered from burn injuries, he said.
Four of the firefighters were in the intensive care unit at Maine Medical Center in Portland, while the maintenance worker was being treated at a hospital in Boston, officials said. One firefighter and the ambulance worker were treated and released.
Dozens of firefighters were trying to pick pieces from the explosion which looked like a coating of snow, from the insulation of the building.
One witness described the scene as “pretty devastating”.
Another witness said there was still insulation falling from the sky like gentle snow and first responders were running around trying to administer first aid and locate the missing chief.
Maine Gov. Janet Mills, who visited the explosion site, has urged the public to avoid the area. The Governor has directed flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of the fallen firefighter.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office will investigate the cause and origin of the blast.