Woman Escapes Home Moments Before It Explodes and Is Engulfed in Flames

The homeowner may have attempted repairs of a gas water heater, authorities say.

October 26, 2015, 2:19 PM

— -- A woman in Massachusetts escaped her home moments before it exploded and burst into flames Sunday, police said.

Police identified 52-year-old Laurie Beliveau, of Taunton, as the sole resident of the two-story, single-family home.

Beliveau was attempting to repair her gas-fueled hot water heater and removed the gas shut-off valve, State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan and Taunton Fire Chief Timothy J. Bradshaw said in a statement today. This misstep caused gas to pour into the basement where it was ignited by an unknown ignition source.

Several unnamed bystanders called the Taunton Fire Department at about 3:53 p.m. One woman reported she "felt the ground shake" while another saw smoke billowing from the rooftop, according to recordings of the 911 calls obtained by ABC News.

Beliveau's neighbor Paul Saltalamacchia said Beliveau ran two doors down to his home screaming for help.

"We, my son and I, got her a pair of sandals and a glass of water and within about five minutes the house was in flames and the windows exploded," Saltalamacchia told ABC News today.

Saltalamacchia said Beliveau told him she was upstairs in her bedroom when the closet doors blew off and that she had "done something to the furnace" before the explosion.

"She was hysterically talking to the fire department about a gas fire place," Saltalamacchia said, noting that she also lamented that her pet cockatoo was still inside.

Coan said the department is imploring the public to seek help from qualified professionals for heating repairs.

"This explosion illustrates what can go wrong when attempting do-it-yourself repairs without the proper training. Contact professionals for maintenance and repairs on major home appliances and systems."

Saltalamacchia said Beliveau is divorced with two adult children. He said another neighbor called Beliveau's ex-husband but did not hear back from him.

There is an ongoing investigation, but Taunton Deputy Fire Chief Scott Dexter said the department suspects a gas leak caused the blast that leveled the home.

"Everything caved in. It's just a pile of lumber. Nothing is salvageable," Dexter told ABC News.

Investigators from the fire marshal's office, state police department, Office of Public Utilities and the Columbia Gas of Massachusetts were at the scene this morning, Dexter said.

Don DiNunno, communications and community relations manager for Columbia Gas, said an explosion of this magnitude in a suburban neighborhood is rare.

"It does happen but thankfully very, very infrequently. But one's more than enough. Thankfully, the lone occupant was able to get out," he told ABC News.

DiNunno said all the utilities at Beliveau's house have been turned off. Columbia Gas advises residents to leave their homes immediately and avoid operating any utilities in the event of a leak.

The Northern Bristol County Registry of Deeds has an affidavit filed in August regarding a foreclosure of Beliveau's home, the Taunton Gazette reported.