A firefighter was killed and eight people were injured Monday when a powerful propane explosion destroyed a new building in Farmington, Maine.
Fire crews were responding to a call reporting the smell of gas in the building, which was evacuated, Farmington Town Selectman Scott Landry said.
The blast had such force that only debris remained from the two-story building, which housed a nonprofit group called LEAP that serves people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.
“It’s a war zone," Landry said. "It’s just a mess. The building is gone.”
Maine public safety officials said the fallen firefighter, 68-year-old Fire Capt. Michael Bell, was a 30-year member of the Farmington Fire Department.
His brother, Fire Chief Terry Bell, and four other firefighters are being treated at Maine Medical Center in Portland, about 70 miles away.
Officials said four of the five are in the intensive care unit. Another firefighter had less severe injuries and was treated and released, as was an ambulance worker. A LEAP employee was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
The explosion around 8:30 a.m. EDT was heard for miles and was strong enough to blow a vehicle across an intersection. Paper, insulation and building debris rained on the area. Nearby buildings were damaged and several businesses shut down.
Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said the closest comparison he could make was what he saw in war-torn Iraq during the year he spent as an adviser to the country's national police midway through last decade.
“It was just total devastation. I’ve never seen destruction like that in my career," Nichols said. "I’ve been in law enforcement 35 years. I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life, except overseas. It was horrible."
Kim Hilton works at the nearby University of Maine. “It felt like someone hit our building with a vehicle," she said.
Our hearts go out to all those impacted by this tragedy, especially to the loved ones of the firefighter lost and others injured. I am grateful for the work of first responders who are at the scene and urge Maine people to avoid the area. (2/2)— Governor Janet Mills (@GovJanetMills) September 16, 2019
Farmington resident Jacob Gage told CNN the building where he lives shook and lost power. He said his stepfather, a firefighter and town employee, was the first to arrive at the site of the blast.
“The scene was very ominous," Gage told the network. “There was still insulation falling from the sky like a gentle snow, and first responders were running around trying to administer first aid."
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LEAP worker Lisa Charles, who lives down the street from the blast, said she was at home with her kids and feared the worst when she saw debris falling from the sky.
“I know everybody in there. I thought for sure everybody was gone,” she said. “They got a warning from the maintenance guy who was a hero for telling them to evacuate.”
Maine Gov. Janet Mills hails from Farmington, and her office said she knew Michael Bell. Mills tweeted her condolences and said in a statement she visited the site of the accident and the fire department. She said the State Fire Marshal’s Office will investigate.
“Farmington is a strong, close-knit and resilient community, of which I am proud to be part,'' said Mills, who ordered the state's flags to be flown at half-staff. "This loss is devastating and felt by all of Maine."
Farmington, with a population of 7,600, is about 70 miles north of Portland.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Farmington, Maine explosion at LEAP Inc.: 1 dead in propane blast