An explosion rocked a home in Northern Virginia Sunday afternoon, moments after a Washington Gas crew detected a dangerously high level of natural gas and ordered a family to evacuate.
The explosion occurred after 3 p.m. in Woodbridge while two firefighters were inside the affected house -- but miraculously were unhurt.
Members of the Occoquan-Woodbridge-Lorton Volunteer Fire Department were called to the corner of Franklin Street and West Longview Drive about 3 p.m. after someone who smelled gas on the street called 911.
A crew began going door to door and found a gas meter with a reading so high in Maria Rivera's home that she and four family members were ordered to go outside.
"We were just literally seconds crossing the street and not even that much time went by that the house blew," resident Maria Rivera said, according to her daughter, Vicki Villalobos, who interpreted from her mother's Spanish.
The mother and daughter teared up, imagining what could have happened.
"The fire marshal told me, if they would have been in the house and not been evacuated, we wouldn't be here right now," Rivera said.
The force of the blast cracked a door in two and shook drywall from a stairwell, photos Villalobos took show.
The firefighters inside the home at the time of the blast were protected by their gear, Fire Chief Jim McAllister said.
"The firefighters explained it as a mild earthquake -- the house appeared to lift," he said.
The firefighters were evaluated at a hospital and were uninjured.
Villalobos said Washington Gas told her family mid last week, when they started to smell gas, that they were safe.
"The smell was horrible. You just couldn't stand the smell. They came out, they checked, they said everything was fine," Villalobos said.
After that call, a crew responded and broke through the street in search of the source of the gas, but it was not found. By Friday night, the smell of natural gas was overpowering again, Villalobos said.
Adding insult to injury, the family doesn't use natural gas at home. Villalobos said a fire investigator suggested to her that gas may have seeped beneath the house and built up.
The cause of the gas leak was not known as of Monday evening. Washington Gas could not comment on the cause of the explosion until the investigation is complete, a spokesman said.
Rivera and her relatives were staying in a hotel.
Call for help right away if you smell gas, McAllister said.
“Do not hesitate to call 911 if you smell gas in your home,” he said. “Although most calls turn out to be minor, serious injury and even death can occur in a gas-related incident.”