Haxby house explosion
© Jordan Clift/SWNS.com
Powerful: Properties surrounding the levelled house were left with their windows blown out, had smashed roofs and were covered in debris

Police declare major incident after suspected gas explosion at property in Haxby kills 63-year-old man

A 63-year-old man has died after a suspected gas explosion destroyed a house in Haxby, near York, police said.

Insp Steve Breen of North Yorkshire police said: "At this stage we believe it to be a gas explosion. We can't confirm that, but preliminary investigations with our partners suggest that is the case. There's no reason to believe it is anything else at this stage."

The victim was named locally as Paul Wilmott, and Breen said the man's next of kin had been informed and officers were supporting his family.

Emergency services were alerted to the incident at 7.30am on Friday and four fire crews and a hazardous area response team attended the scene, while firefighters carried out a search of what was left of the property.

The neighbouring houses - the nearest of which were evacuated - were severely damaged, with blown-out windows and fallen roofs.

The area was cordoned off and a centre was set up for those displaced by the incident at the nearby Haxby Memorial Hall.

Police said they were treating the incident as an accident and that there was no further threat to members of the public. "We don't believe there were any suspicious circumstances," said Breen.

Three fire crews and a hazardous area response team attended the scene, while firefighters searched what was left of the property.

The explosion sounded like a crash, one local resident said. The man, who did not wish to be named, was about 150 yards away at the time and described the loud bang that he said had "flattened" the property and damaged others nearby.

"The house has been completely flattened. It sounded as if a bus or something had crashed into a house, or like an aeroplane crash," he told the Press Association. "All the properties adjacent to the one that's blown up have got damaged windows and garages."

Windows at St Margaret Clitherow church in Holly Tree Lane and the presbytery are also understood to have been damaged.

At the scene, the road was cordoned off and four fire engines could be seen outside the destroyed house.

The detached houses either side of the property were badly damaged. The windows had been blown out of one neighbouring house and the roofs of many houses on the street had been damaged by the explosion. Neighbours said the blast was heard across the area.

Peter Hurst, 30, described what his father, David Hurst, who lives in one of the neighbouring properties, had heard. "He said he heard a big bang. He can't walk that well so he was really panicking but he's fine, he's shaken up a bit. The windows in his house have all gone." Hurst said his father did not know his neighbours well.

Yorkshire house explosion
© Rob Varley/Guzelian
Aftermath: A gas line remains alight in the razed house pictured just minutes after the suspected gas explosion
Duncan Batchelor, a finance director who lives a few doors down from the house, said he and his wife were woken at about 7.30am by the bang.

"At first we thought that one of the trees out the back had fallen or that something had hit the house and then we heard all the car alarms going off and thought it must be one of those small earthquakes," he said.

"I checked on the kids and they were fine and then looked out the window and the garage door had been popped open."

The houses on either side of the exploded house had had their windows blown in. The father of a family living next door to the exploded house reportedly had to climb through a smashed bay window in order to wrestle the front door open and get his children out.

"They're solid houses," said Batchelor. "They're made of solid brick, but there wasn't a wall standing."

Kenneth Waugh has lived in a nearby house for nearly 12 years and, like most of his neighbours, was awoken by the noise. "We got up and looked out the window and saw people scurrying all over the place," he said.

His wife, Allison, said: "I wondered whether a car had crashed into the house."

Emma Coulson, a teacher, said friends from around the village had texted her when they heard the bang. "Friends texted me saying: 'What was that?' and I replied saying: 'I can see smoke from my back window'."

One woman, who did not want to be named, said she felt the explosion from a street away. She said: "There was a tremendous bang this morning. It shook the bed and the whole house."

Beauty therapist Sarah Grand, who lives six doors down from the destroyed house, said hers was the first property to have escaped damage from the explosion.

Her sister, sales adviser Vicky Grand, said she had heard the blast from her home three streets away. "It was so loud I thought someone had broken into the house," she said.