UPDATE – 12:18 a.m. Friday
VERO BEACH -The American Red Cross is now on the scene providing temporary lodging for two residents of the Sun and Sand apartments displaced after a gas stove explosion engulfed four units, and three victims were transported to hospital for treatment of burns.
Indian River Fire Rescue responded to the explosion in the apartment complex on Sandpiper Lane on the barrier island in Vero Beach shortly after 10 p.m. Thursday with four fire engines and three ambulances from various stations in the south county. The flames were extinguished by 11 p.m. but the fire was still smoldering.
The victims sustained major burns to their bodies and injuries related to shrapnel from the blast, according to Vero Beach Police Capt. Brian Conway and witnesses on the scene. Vero officers assisted in establishing a perimeter around the fire and controlling access to onlookers and to residents, anxious to find out if their homes were livable.
Witnesses described a giant bang akin to a truck running into a building. Greg Bracken, a manager at the nearby hotel, said the windows shook in the hotel from the blast.
“It was the most horrific thing,” Bracken said, adding that flames were spewing out the front of the apartment and the roof had blown apart littering the area with debris.
According to neighbors and co-workers, one man had gone to the couple’s apartment, unit 6, to help them light their gas stove when the apartment exploded. This was confirmed by Bracken, who said one of his employees, John DiMarco, had gone to the apartment to help the couple light their stove, which had been having trouble lighting.
Bracken said he saw John come out of the burning apartment with about 40 percent of his body burned.
An official cause for the fire has not yet been released, as the fire department continues to investigate the explosion.
“Not in my 26 years in the City of Vero Beach” has the police captain seen a case such as this, Conway said.
Witnesses started gathering outside the apartment building yelling that people were still inside. However, everyone was accounted for and no one was trapped inside the building.
A resident of an apartment adjacent the explosion, Brenda Erhart, who recently moved to Vero from Colorado felt fortunate that she had not been in her apartment when the gas stove blew. As luck would have it, her sister Sherry had niece, Kaylie had been thinking about her and asked her to go out for drinks at a nearby restaurant 10 minutes before the explosion.
Returning home after hearing the sirens and seeing the fire engines, Erhart waited to see if her steamer trunk filled with mementos had perished in the fire. With the help of IRC Fire Rescue Engineer Jeff Diggs, who retrieved the trunk filled with photos and keepsakes from the fire-ravaged building, Erhart was able to salvage her most prized possessions and take them to a safe place.
This article will be updated as more information becomes available.