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1 dead when New Jersey home leveled by explosion, fire

Firefighters were on the scene of a house that was leveled by a fire and explosion in New Jersey Wednesday morning.
August 28, 2013 2:14:52 PM PDT
Firefighters and emergency responders were on the scene of a house that was leveled by a fire and explosion in New Jersey Wednesday morning.

Cell phone video was taken minutes after an explosion that was heard for miles.

The home at 74 New Street was here one minute and the next it was gone.

Tom Dellaventura was out walking his dog just before 7 a.m.

"A single explosion. It was extremely loud," said Thomas Dellaventura, an eyewitness.

As a retired firefighter, Tom did what he's done his whole life, and he ran toward the fire.

That's when he heard screaming from inside the house.

"'Help me, help me,' I said, 'Don't worry, we will get you out,' and I really thought at that time we could but it wasn't meant to be," Dellaventura said.

Because the fire was raging so big and so hot, it was melting everything around it.

As hard as he tried he couldn't get to the woman.

"I couldn't see her, but I could hear her. I was telling her hang in there. She was screaming. We were trying to get her out," Dellaventura said.

The woman inside, Debbie Smith, had a cell phone and called a friend.

"And she called that lady and said there was an explosion an she was trapped," said George Tulley, the homeowner.

Debbie, or Jess as her friends called her, would be found dead hours later.

She was staying in George Tulley's home, they were friends.

Still stunned, Eyewitness News found George desperately searching through the rubble with his son and daughter in law looking for only one thing, his wife's urn.

"She died 13 years ago. That's all I want. (That's the one thing you want to find.) That's it," Tulley said.

As for Thomas Dellaventura, what he saw and heard, what he was not able to do, will stay with him forever.

"I heard her a couple of times as the fire started going but I had to back away and then I didn't hear her anymore," Dellaventura said.

Officials say the house does not have any natural gas lines, but is fed by a large propane tank out back.

The cause/origination of explosion and fire are not determined yet. The investigation is ongoing.


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