1 dead in Princeton fire; Explosion heard before flames rage.

Position:NEWS
 
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Byline: Linda Bock

PRINCETON - A fiery explosion in a Ball Hill Road split-level home Thursday morning claimed the life of the occupant

"We believe this was some sort of gas explosion," said Acting Fire Chief John Bennett. He cautioned, however, that it was still very early in the investigation.

"The explosion blew the whole front of the house out," he said, adding that the home's windows had blown out to the front and back yards, and the entire house was engulfed in flames.

A 61-year-old man was killed in the explosion, but authorities did not release his identity pending an autopsy by the medical examiner.

Reported by a woman who was passing by the house when she heard the explosion and called 911, the fire burned for more than an hour.

Chief Bennett, on vacation from his full-time job when he got the call just after 10:30 a.m., was the first to arrive at the fire. He said he made it to the front door, but the intense fire forced him back. Three additional alarms were immediately struck for manpower and water. Westminster, Holden, Hubbardston and Sterling firefighters quickly arrived to assist Princeton firefighters. Princeton has an on-call department. There are no hydrants in town, so the first firefighters had to break ice on a nearby pond before laying more than 2,000 feet of 5-inch hose, a process that took about 10 minutes, according to Chief Bennett. Rutland and Hubbardston companies brought their water tankers.

Although officials have not confirmed the victim's name, neighbors say Rick Conway had been living in the house that belonged to his mother, who recently moved to a nursing home. The house is owned by Daveeda A. Conway, according to town records.

A car and a tractor-trailer rig, which neighbors said belonged to Mr. Conway, were still parked in the driveway as firefighters arrived and worked to extinguish the blaze. Fire officials became worried that someone may have been at home at the time of the fire because the driveway had not been plowed.

"The whole building literally exploded," Chief Bennett said.

He ordered firefighters evacuated several times because of the intensity of the heat, and the floors in the front of the house were sagging and unstable. About 85 firefighters were at the scene, and there were four accountability checks throughout the fire.

"It's been quite a challenge," Chief Bennett said of firefighting efforts. An oil tank in the basement caught fire, according to officials, and there were propane tanks...

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