Two people have been declared dead after an explosion early Tuesday that leveled a Port Orchard home. The cause is a mystery.
PORT ORCHARD — Investigators are certain a Kitsap County couple were instantly killed when a pre-dawn explosion reduced their home to an acre of rubble.
What they don’t know is what caused the devastating blast.
Kitsap County sheriff’s investigators said the remains found in what once was a bedroom in the home are presumed to be those of William McDonald, 70, and his wife, Maria McDonald, 65. Their identities will be confirmed by the Kitsap County Coroner’s Office, sheriff’s Deputy Scott Wilson said.
Wilson said hundreds of calls came into the Kitsap dispatch center shortly after 4:10 a.m. Tuesday reporting a “loud, forceful explosion” at 3585 S.E. Soholt Lane. Firefighters arrived to find the triple-wide manufactured home leveled, in flames and “turned into Popsicle sticks,” Wilson said.
It took firefighters about an hour to douse the blaze. The explosion scattered debris over a wide area, sending pieces of siding and insulation into trees and shattering neighbors’ windows. It was big enough to be detected by seismograms.
Once day broke, firefighters doused hot spots as crews searched for the homeowners, bringing in cadaver dogs.
Relatives of the couple arrived at the home within hours of the explosion in tears. Maria McDonald’s colleagues at Kitsap Bank, where she’d worked in customer service for more than 20 years, established a memorial page for their co-worker on Facebook.
“She had such an infectious smile and outgoing personality,” said Shannon Childs, senior vice president of marketing for the bank.
As investigators searched for the remains, a woman parked hurriedly near the home and tore out of her car, crying and saying, “No, no, no, no.” She got a child from the back seat and started walking toward the home.
She was greeted by a sheriff’s deputy and walked toward the home.
“Are they in the hospital?” she asked as she was led away.
Kitsap County Fire Marshal David Lynam said it will take several days for investigators to “put the pieces of the puzzle together” and determine what caused the explosion.
It’s going to be a tough investigation,” he said. “Pieces that were in the house are literally scattered over an acre.”
Guy Dalrymple, deputy fire chief for South Kitsap Fire and Rescue, said the McDonalds’ home was heated with propane. Investigators found the propane tank intact, but leaking fuel could have caused the blast, he said.
From the way the debris was scattered, it appears the explosion was centered in the middle of the home, Dalrymple said.
Wilson said detectives are not at this time conducting a criminal investigation.
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The explosion shook the neighborhood and damaged several nearby homes and structures, Wilson said.
Neighbor Mona Lumsden said the force of the explosion knocked a picture off the wall over her bed and threw her son from his bed. She said she had been worried about the couple and feared the worst when she saw her neighbors’ cars in their driveway.
“I pretty much knew then,” she said in the afternoon.
She said the McDonalds had moved into the home about seven years ago and were lovely people.
Another neighbor, Lynn Soholt, said the explosion blew out two windows of his shop and two windows in his house about a quarter-mile away.
“Terrible thing,” he said after walking down the street to see what could be seen near the leveled home.
He said homes in the area are heated with propane, electric heaters and woodstoves and that most lie on five-acre lots.
The blast blew several windows out on the south side of Mullenix Ridge Elementary School, which is just north of the home. The pressure from the blast also caused parts of the building’s sprinkler system to drop from the ceiling, according to an email from South Kitsap School District Superintendent Michelle Reid to district staff.
Classes were held as usual once the building was found safe to enter, Reid wrote.
Kitsap authorities requested assistance from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is standard in explosions of this size, Wilson said.
The blast sent sound waves across the Puget Sound region for several minutes. The waves were detected by a handful of area seismograms, said John Vidale, the director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.
“We see a pretty sharp pop all the way to Lake Washington, to the west and down to Tacoma,” he said.
He said people many miles away could have heard the explosion. “It would be a low rumble, a pretty low frequency,” he said. “In this area, we haven’t seen this kind of signal for a while.”