UPDATE: Investigators find cause of deadly Bath building explosion, identify victim

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BATH — Investigators Wednesday said a propane gas leak caused a building explosion and fire early Tuesday morning that killed a woman, rocked the neighborhood and launched debris throughout the surrounding area.

The explosion, which was reported at 5:11 a.m., leveled a duplex at 29 and 31 Bluff Road in the Atlantic Townhouse Apartment complex.

The dead woman was identified Wednesday by the state medical examiner’s office as 64-year-old Dale Ann Fussell of 29 Bluff Road. Her official cause of death remained undetermined.

“When the crews got here, (the fire) was fully involved,” Fire Chief Steve Hinds said Tuesday. “The building was flat, it blew up; an explosion.”

Several motor vehicles caught fire and the debris field stretched for blocks, as far as Shaw’s supermarket on Chandler Drive. Surrounding buildings had broken windows and doors.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, on Wednesday said the state fire marshal’s office, with help from Maine’s Fuel Board inspectors, traced the explosion to a leak from a gas line connecting an outdoor propane tank to two gas heaters that provided heat to the dubplex.

He said the leak was in an outside wall of the building, and that the fumes likely seeped into a crawl space beneath the building, where they were ignited by an unknown source.

The leak was in the wall of 31 Bluff Road. Resident Kenneth Hooper had gone to work nearby at a McDonald’s about 30 minutes before to the explosion, according to McCausland.

Hooper returned home after the explosion to find the building in rubble, was overcome and transported to a hospital. He was released later Tuesday, McCausland reported.

Betty’s Homestyle Cooking at 162 Front St. is collecting money and clothes for Hooper.

McCausland said three nearby neighbors were “slightly injured in the explosion aftermath.”

Donald Carman, who lives just up the street from where the explosion took place, said he heard the explosion, which he compared to a landmine going off, and saw debris falling from the sky.

“It was incredibly loud,” Carman said. “It shook the whole neighborhood.”

Alex McLean and Sierra Frith, who were watching the scene Tuesday morning, said they had lived at 35 Bluff Road about a month ago and said they believed a woman in her 60s or 70s died in the fire. McLean said he felt a little uneasy, knowing how close they had lived to the scene.

Hinds said this is the first case of this kind he has seen since he started working in the city in 1981. He said there hadn’t been a fire fatality in the city since 2009.

The Bath, West Bath and Brunswick fire departments provided fire support, Hinds said, and Bath, Brunswick and Phippsburg provided rescue apparatus.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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Investigators from the state fire marshal’s office and the Bath Fire Department on Tuesday inspect what was left of a home that exploded on Bluff Road in Bath.

An investigator from the state fire marshal’s office approaches as firefighters survey the rubble left after a house exploded shortly after 5 a.m. Tuesday on Bluff Road in Bath.

Firefighters responded to a building explosion on Bluff Road in Bath Tuesday morning that claimed the life of one woman.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.