Propane Leak Suspected in Deadly House Blast

Authorities say a house explosion in New Jersey that claimed a woman's life may have been sparked by a propane leak inside an appliance.

The exact cause of the blast that leveled the home on New Street Hampton, Hunterdon County will not be known for weeks.

The home's owner, 70-year-old George Tulley, was at work when the explosion occurred Wednesday.

His son, Robert, tells the Courier News of Bridgewater his father allowed family and friends to stay in the house. The son says his father wasn't aware that 53-year-old Deborah Smith was there.

“It’s the first night she (Smith) has been in the house for weeks,” Robert Tulley told the paper. “My father got a call at work that the house exploded, then he got here to find out Jesse was in it.”

She died in the basement despite efforts by neighbors to rescue her. Investigators say four people rushed to the burning residence after the woman called from her cell phone for help.

"It was reported that she was communicating with them as they attempted to rescue her,” said Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns III. "Their heroic acts, although unsuccessful, are a credit to these individuals and their community should be proud of them.”

It took about an hour for firefighters from 12 area fire departments to bring the blaze under control. Authorities found the woman’s body in the basement.

Another person was in the home at the time but was able to escape, according to investigators.

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