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House Explodes, Bursts Into Flames In Howard Beach

Firefighters Greeted By Gas-Fed Blaze, The Cause Of Which Remains Unclear

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Officials on Wednesday evening were trying to determine what caused a home to catch fire and partially collapse earlier in the day in Queens.

The apparent explosion happened at around 2 p.m. at 162-39 84th St., in Howard Beach. The fire was brought under control by about 3:30 p.m., according to the FDNY.

Chopper 2 was over the scene as a bright orange fireball burst through the roof. Twenty- to 30-foot high flames could be seen.

Fire crews worked on what was described as a precarious situation.

Firefighters on the scene of a house fire in Queens on Wednesday, May 29, 2013. (credit: FDNY)

Firefighters on the scene of a house fire in Queens on Wednesday, May 29, 2013. (credit: FDNY)

“Quickly, our units were encountered with a gas-fed fire and a partial collapse of the building. Two things that are very dangerous to firefighters,” Deputy Assistant Fire Chief Bob Maynes told reporters at the scene.

WEB EXTRA: Photos Of The Home Explosion

Some neighbors in the community still reeling from Hurricane Sandy said they heard a loud boom when the fire broke out at the house — which itself had been damaged by Sandy, WCBS 880′s Monica Miller reported.

“I thought it was a plane or something hitting the neighborhood, being that we’ve had so much problems here,” a woman told Miller.

The top of the home appears to have been completely demolished, leaving a giant crater in the center of the structure.

According to neighbors, an elderly couple named the Pepitones live in the home, Miller reported. One neighbor, John Dezago, said he saw Theresa Pepitone hanging precariously from a window, 1010 WINS’ Holli Haerr reported.

“The bricks and everything just came flying down,” Dazego said, adding he ran over and called 911.

“I noticed a lady hanging in the window, so I started yelling at her, ‘Get out of the house! Get out of the house!’” he said.

Theresa Pepitone was taken to Jamaica Medical Center with burns. She was listed in critical but stable condition late Wednesday night, CBS 2′s Alice Gainer reported.

“Her clothes were a little bit ripped, they were burned. She was burned badly — her hands, her face, her hair,” neighbor Joseph Noll, who lives around the corner, told Gainer.

“She just kept saying ‘get a gun, shoot me, get a gun, shoot me.’ She must’ve been in that much pain,” another neighbor told Miller.

Pepitone’s husband, Joe, was not home when the fire broke out. But he could be seen speaking with investigators for hours afterward, CBS 2’s Gainer reported.

The Pepitones’ German Shepherd was saved by a neighbor.

“The nose was burned, the paws were burned, the hair was burned,” Noll told Gainer.

The road remained closed to traffic at 3:30 p.m. but it appears no other homes were affected by the fire, Miller reported.

By around 2:20 p.m., the gas had apparently been shut off and the columns of flame had been knocked down.

Firefighters on the scene of a house fire in Queens on Wednesday, May 29, 2013. (credit: CBS 2)

Firefighters on the scene of a house fire in Queens on Wednesday, May 29, 2013. (credit: CBS 2)

In the wake of the blast, Bob Kazanowitz walked CBS 2 through his backyard, where pieces of his next-door neighbor’s home lay scattered on the lawn.

“We have all the smoke, water damage inside,” he said.

Given the damage already wrought by Sandy, Kazanowitz said the neighborhood is devastated all over again.

“We just feel very awful,” he said. “It’s like being hit over the head twice — first the hurricane, and now this.”

The home was in the Rapid Repairs program after Sandy, but officials weren’t commenting on whether any work done may have played a role in the fire.

“I can’t confirm that that work was done, that’s what our fire marshal will do,” Maynes said.

National Grid responded to the scene. The company said it checked its lines in the area and found no problems, nor had there been reports in recent days of gas odors. There may have been a problem with the private service line to the home, National Grid told CBS 2.

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