Bradford, Vt., House Explosion Caused by Gas Leak, Officials Say

  • Firefighters look over the scene of a house explosion in Bradford, Vt., on June, 29, 2017. (Valley News- Jennifer Hauck)

  • Marianne O’Malley arrives at her home in Bradford, Vt., on June 30, 2017. Her home exploded the night before; she had been away in Maine at the time of the explosion. Her daughter Mary-Elizabeth, of Burlington, Vt., is by her side holding her son. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • During an investigation, Detective Sgt. Michael LaCourse, of the Vermont State Police, peers into a home that exploded on Thursday night in Bradford, Vt., on June, 30, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Fire investigators photograph a home from above on June 30, 2017, in Bradford, Vt. The home exploded on Thursday night. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Saturday, July 01, 2017

Bradford, Vt. — Marianne O’Malley wept to see her home of 19 years blown apart and in ruins, her treasured family heirlooms scattered across the yard and in the road. 

But as she gathered with her children and grandchildren on Friday afternoon outside her house, which was destroyed in an explosion the previous night, O’Malley remembered a lesson she had taught them all.

“Yes,” she said, looking through the wreckage of the house across from Oxbow High School, “they were cherished and precious things.”

“But you know what?” she said, pointing first to her head, then to her heart and her two grandchildren standing nearby. “Here’s my memories, here’s my love, here’s my granddaughter, and here’s my grandson — that’s what matters.”

Friends, family, neighbors and emergency workers rushed to the home at 486 Upper Plain Road, which is also Route 5, on Friday to provide support and comfort to O’Malley, who lived there alone with her cat.

O’Malley had been on vacation in Maine since Tuesday, and had been scheduled to return home Thursday afternoon, hours before her house was blown apart by what officials believe was a gas leak from within the building.

Sitting by Lake Torsey, near Augusta, the state capital, she decided to spend another day there — possibly saving her life and those of some family members who were planning to accompany her home.

“We were having such a good time with my cousins on the lake that we decided to stay,” she said. “I truly believe Almighty God kept us safe.”

Firefighters and rescue workers from several towns in the Upper Valley responded around 6:40 on Thursday night to reports that a house had been blown apart. 

Although there was no sustained fire, the front wall of the two-story clapboard home was gone and the roof was sagging in. Debris covered the lawn and the driveway, where O’Malley’s pickup truck was still parked.

Emergency workers at first were unable to locate O’Malley, leading to fears that she could have been in the house, but later reached her by phone in Maine.

State police and fire marshals were still combing through the ruins on Friday afternoon, searching for a cause.

Investigators used a ladder truck to observe the scene from above, looking for patterns, and installed frames to secure entry to the basement.

“Without jumping to conclusions, this gives the impression of a gas explosion,” Tom Williams, a detective sergeant with the Vermont State Police, said in an interview on Friday.

The lack of a long-lasting fire was not unheard of for explosions of this nature, and investigators believe the blast was accidental, he said.

“The house is considered a total loss,” Williams said in a news release issued Friday night. “There are no suspicious circumstances.

The investigation remains open and active, he said.

Although much of the building was too unstable to enter on Friday, firefighters retrieved a few prized possessions from the edges of the rubble: a bureau with clothes in it, a pink jewelry box, a plastic crate full of photo albums.

O’Malley arrived at the scene around 1 p.m. on Friday. She took a look at the house and hugged her adult daughter, Mary-Elizabeth.

Her hands clasped together over her chest, she walked past the yellow caution tape out front and stopped by a wooden carving lying in the mud: the red-faced mascot of the Cleveland Indians baseball team.

A family member retrieved it from behind the tape and handed it to her. She dusted it off, her shoulders shaking.

“She doesn’t care if her couch is destroyed,” Scott Johnson, a friend of the family, later said. “She doesn’t care if her bed is destroyed. But by God, if that vase her grandmother owned is lost...”

He trailed off. The point was clear: the memories that possessions carry are more important than the objects themselves.

This isn’t the first time O’Malley has lost a home.

As a middle schooler growing up in Cleveland, she learned one day that the rented house her family was staying in had gone up in flames. Fearing for her family — none of whom ended up hurt — she sprinted across town to get home.

“The star of the eigth-grade track team almost couldn’t catch me,” she said.

No people were harmed in Thursday night’s blast or in the ensuing emergency work, but as of Friday afternoon, no one had located O’Malley’s cat, a Siamese named Zippy.

“I’m hoping he’ll peek his head out of the bushes,” she said.

Johnson, who lives a few miles away, neighbors and others chipped in to help the family on Friday. Local businesses provided coffee and donuts, and Johnson said he planned to have the O’Malleys over for dinner.

“Some of them will stay the night, probably,” he said.

O’Malley, an LNA and health technician who works at the White River Junction VA Medical Center and Kendal at Hanover, said she planned to stay nearby with friends.

Along with her ex-husband, who lives in town, her son had come from Boston, as well as her daughter, Mary-Elizabeth, from Burlington. Those three and others were present on Friday, and even more relatives were on their way from Ohio and California.

“That’s the best part of our family,” Mary-Elizabeth said that afternoon. “They taught us that stuff isn’t important, things aren’t important — it’s family.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.