AN elderly man was killed and his fibro home reduced to a pile of splinters in a gas explosion that reverberated across a NSW mid-north coast town yesterday.
The ferocity of the blast at Tuncurry was felt kilometres away at Forster, with residents fearing an earthquake had struck their picturesque village.
It was later revealed that 80-year-old John Richard Fisher – trying to keep warm on a wintry day – unwittingly caused the blast when his leaking gas heater ignited and blew his house apart.
The force of the explosion threw Mr Fisher’s car over a rear fence and severely damaged neighbouring properties.
The blast left a section of The Lakes Way resembling a war zone.
NSW Fire Brigade investigators, who had to wear special breathing apparatus because of asbestos that littered the site, last night confirmed it was a gas explosion.
Police said a man’s body had been found in the debris.
Ron Hayes, who lives more than 500m away, felt the explosion inside his double brick house just before 11am.
“I was completely bamboozled,” Mr Hayes said. “I went outside and there was no smoke, no fire, just the neighbourhood animals howling. Then I went up the road and, wow! I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
He said Mr Fisher was a well-known local whose death would affect the entire community.
“Everyone knew him. It’s tragic what’s happened,” he said.
It is understood Mr Fisher’s son lives next door and cared for his elderly father, who lived alone.
The spread of debris, glass and asbestos closed The Lakes Way for most of yesterday, causing traffic chaos for hours.
Local schools gave students an early mark and some businesses allowed staff to leave early to make an 80km detour through Bulahdelah in order to get to the other side of the road closure.
Locals took to Facebook to describe their shock.
“I was playing bowls at Tuncurry and all the ladies nearly had heart attacks, the noise was so loud. So sorry to hear there was a fatality,” Kay Negus wrote.
Colin Bell wrote: “I swear it sounded like the world was going to end. Never heard nothing like it in my life. Scariest thing ever.”
Police forensic officers are expected to continue scouring the debris today as part of their investigation.
Gas heater safety tips from Elgas Australia:
* Choose a gas heater that is appropriately sized for the room
* Make sure a qualified gas technician installs it and carries out any maintenance to it
* If equipped with a filter, the filter should be regularly cleaned during heating season to maintain proper air flow.
* Keep children and pets away from gas heaters
* Turn gas heaters off when unattended and when you go to bed.
* Keep gas heaters at least one metre away from all flammable objects including furniture, drapes, books and boxes
* Never use a gas heater to dry clothing, shoes or other articles.
* Gas heaters should only be used in rooms with adequate ventilation
* Never use or store flammable liquids or aerosols near a gas heater.
* Have your heater inspected by a qualified technician every two years.