Fifteen people, including utility workers and firefighters, wereinjured in a gas explosion that destroyed a home in Stafford Township Tuesday, authorities said.

Aftermath of a home explosion on Oak Avenue in Manahawkin (Ocean County Sheriff)

According to Ocean County Sheriff Mike Mastronardy, the eruption occurred while fire crews probed the source of a gas leak in a two inch gas main on Oak Avenue near Route 9 sending smoke and flames into the air.

In that instant - captured on a police cruiser's dashboard camera - 15 people were injured, two of them critically.

Fire Chief Jack Johnson was about 50 feet from the unoccupied house, when a fireball burst into the sky and a shock wave knocked several people on their backs and pounded their eardrums. Glass, wood and insulation rained down; strands of pink fiberglass hung from the pine trees like wispy strands of cotton candy.

"It happened so quickly, the explosion, debris all around us coming from nowhere," Johnson said. "It knocked you off your feet, a shock wave, the concussion of it. It's something I never want to experience again."

Johnson was one of six firefighters and two emergency medical service technicians to sustain concussion-like injuries. All but one had been treated and released from hospitals by Tuesday evening. Seven gas company workers also were injured, including two critically who were within 20 feet of the house when it blew up.

Houses on either side were badly damaged, as was a partially built one across the street. Stafford Police Capt. Tom Dellane said other homes located within several blocks of the blast also were damaged.

"It looks like a war area," said Max Von Ness, a plowing contractor who was nearby when the explosion occurred. "It's just destruction. There's debris all over the place."

Von Ness, of Stafford Township, said he was driving in the area when he heard a loud explosion and felt the ground shake.

"It was kind of like a mini-earthquake," he said. "You were thinking it was like a bomb."

The cause of the 10:32 a.m. explosion has not been determined. The blast occurred about an hour and a half after police received the first report of the strong gas smell. Emergency crews and gas company personnel responded and began evacuating 75 to 100 nearby homes.

About 300 homes remained without gas service Tuesday evening; some were also without electricity. Michael Kinney, a spokesman for New Jersey Natural Gas, said crews planned to work through the night to make repairs and hoped to restore service by Wednesday morning.

Stafford Police Captain Thomas Delane said the home was unoccupied at the time. Stafford Police ask anyone without gas in Cedar Run to call 800-221-0051.

The Ocean County Sheriff's Department says the gas leak was contained around 12:30 p.m. Route 9 was reopened at Oak Avenue at 2:30 p.m.

Mastronardy says two workers were flown to Atlanticare and the rest went to Southern Ocean County Medical Center.

Remnants of a Stafford home following a gas explosion.(Ocean County Sheriff)

Stafford Police on their Facebook page said there were no schools in the immediate area. 

Oak Avenue remained sealed from Route Nine to Perkins Lane while the cleanup continued Tuesday afternoon. Route 9 was also closed through the area for several hours.

"It looks like a war area," said Max Von Ness, a plowing contractor who was nearby when the explosion occurred. "It's just destruction. There's debris all over the place."

Von Ness, of Stafford Township, said he was driving in the area when he heard a loud explosion and felt the ground shake.
"It was kind of like a mini-earthquake," he said. "You were thinking it was like a bomb

Readers on the Facebook page of Townsquare Media's WPG Talk Radio 1450 commented about hearing a loud explosion. "(My) whole house shook in Ocean Acres," wrote Amy Corbett.  Adina Roskos, who live off of Oak Avenue said she heard a noise "so loud (I) thought my roof exploded." The Asbury Park Press reports the explosion was heard as far as Lacey and Waretown.

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Associated Press and Chris Coleman contributed to this report.