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One dead, five firefighters injured after explosion and residential blaze in Port Washington

One person died and four firefighters were injured

One person died and four firefighters were injured after a fire tore through a Port Washington home, authorities said. Credit: Lou Minutoli

One person died, five firefighters were injured, and a woman and child narrowly escaped after an explosion and fast-moving fire tore through a Port Washington home Tuesday night, authorities said early Wednesday.

No information was available about the victim who died in the fire or the condition of the injured firefighters. Authorities did not give a cause for the explosion but said it occurred just before 9 p.m. at the single-family home on Prospect Avenue. The concussion from the blast could be felt up to a mile away, according to some from nearby towns who heard it.

At a news conference early Wednesday, authorities said a 39-year-old woman and 2-year-old girl were escorted to safety by Nassau police officers moments before the explosion. The officers arrived at the home in response to a 911 call.

Officials did not say the nature of the 911 call or who made it but when the officers arrived at about 8:40 p.m., they smelled gas fumes and quickly led the woman and child from the house.

A short time later, an explosion likened by some witnesses to a large bomb detonating, ignited a fire in the two-story home, which is just up the hill from Manhasset Bay and southwest by a few blocks of the hamlet's main business district.

The home, built from wood in 1908, burned quickly and witnesses said it wasn't long before flames and thick smoke shot high into the evening sky, clearly visible from the bay.

Several witnesses reported hearing one or more explosions that shook their homes before the house caught fire. Others grew nervous when it appeared the flames would jump to other homes on the narrow strip of Prospect Avenue.

"We stood there hoping and praying the fire wasn't going to spread," said Nancy Costenoble, who lives close by on Second Avenue where she watched with her stunned husband Steve and neighbors.

Costenoble and her husband said they were startled by the explosion and moved toward the sound of the blast until they saw the flames.

"Everybody thought it was their house that was hit by a tree," she said. "Everybody's house shook."

Nearly a mile away a trustee from the Village of Port Washington North said he felt the boom from his condo.

"Our place shook a little," said trustee Sherman Scheff. "I went outside and I could see smoke and fire."

Several homes in the immediate vicinity of the burned Prospect Avenue home remained without power or gas just after 11 p.m. Tuesday night after both were shut off as a precaution, officials said.

The fire is being investigated by the Nassau Police Department's arson and bomb squad.

More than 150 firefighters from fire departments across Nassau County poured into Port Washington to battle the fire, which was contained at about 10:30 p.m. said Chris Bollerman, a spokesman for the Port Washington Fire Department.

A large section of the Prospect Avenue home was blackened by the earlier flames, its roof gone and the windows blown out. Three nearby structures described by Bollerman as "outbuildings" were damaged.

Just before midnight, the entire business district on Main Street in Port Washington was shut for several blocks. Dozens of pumper trucks, fire engines and other emergency vehicles jammed the main stretch of the hamlet.

The explosion shattered the window of Fitness Inspired Training on Main Street. Late Tuesday night, a man could be seen cleaning up the shattered glass and other debris.

An employee of Louie's Oyster Bar and Grille at the end of Prospect Avenue on Manhasset Bay, described an unnerving scene inside the eatery after the explosion. Rattled customers got up and made for the exits.

"We just felt the explosion and then we saw the fire," hostess Silvie Navarro said. "People ran outside. I thought it was a bomb. People were saying 'Let's go. Let's go.' "

With Ellen Yan

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