A Hopkins couple were killed Wednesday in an explosion and fire that left their home in smoldering ruins.
Family members at the scene identified the victims as Hubert "Herb" Vassar, 85, and Sharon Vassar, 83.
The Hopkins Police Department said it had no immediate information on what caused the explosion. The fiery blast at 10:15 a.m. shook the screens of nearby homes and could be heard up to 15 blocks away.
The house was in the 200 block of 21st Avenue N., near Hwy. 7 and Shady Oak Road. Up the hill from the site, neighbors huddled together and watched later in the afternoon as emergency workers combed through the property, lifting debris, glass and personal belongings. About a dozen family members gathered nearby in prayer, and chaplains at the scene offered comfort.
As first responders were working, family members were able to retrieve a few wedding photos of the couple and some jewelry and coins from a spare bedroom, said Kathleen Kautz, sister of Sharon Vassar. The fire took out the rest of the family's possessions.
"She had photos from every part of everyone's lives," Kautz said. "It's just so heartbreaking; it all went up (in flames) at once,"
The couple were always in high spirits, liked to spend time with their grandchildren, camp and go to their cabin in northern Minnesota.
"They were still young kids," niece Amber Kautz said, calling her aunt and uncle a pair of adventurous spirits. The couple built the house in the 1950s, near where Herb Vassar grew up, and they raised their children there.
"The last thing I did for Sharon — even though she's gone — in the vehicle her body was in, I went up to the window and just pressed it," Kathleen Kautz said.
Hopkins Fire Chief Dale Specken said that in more than 30 years in the fire service he'd never seen an explosion like the one that claimed the Vassar home. He called it "a very tragic day" and said it could be several days before investigators can pinpoint the cause.
"It could be it could be anything from if there was any gas appliance that was leaking anything like if they had a gas stove, water heater furnace," he said. "It could be anything, and we won't know until we get in there."
Scott Waryan lives two houses from where the explosion occurred. "Holy cow, my first thought was that my house was hit by lightning, then a huge tree landed on my roof," he said. He said that "within 4 or 5 minutes, the whole house was up in flames. They were 20 feet above the roofline."
Waryan, who grew up in the neighborhood, said the Vassars were quiet and kept to themselves. He said Hubert kept the property in nice shape and was often working on projects.
Another neighbor, Barbara Herman, 74, said Hubert was well-known for his garden, adding that he "cared for that property like it was a baby." She was home when the blast sounded.
"It felt like something rammed into [my] house ... like something as large as a semi," Herman said.
Hopkins Police Department Detective Eliana Welbes called it an unprecedented event for the city of Hopkins.
"This is pretty uncommon. You would need a large concentration of gas," she said.
David Viland, 73, was reading the news in his home down the street when he heard the boom. It shook his home, he said, reminding him of bombs or heavy artillery from his time serving in Vietnam. He walked down the street to see his neighbor's house engulfed in flames. Within 15 minutes, it had collapsed.
"Standing out on the street here, I felt the heat on my face," Viland said.