Man, 90, injured in Southsea gas explosion

BLAST The scene in Welch Road, Southsea. Picture: Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service
BLAST The scene in Welch Road, Southsea. Picture: Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service
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A 90-year-old man was injured this morning when his home was rocked by a large gas explosion.

The blast blew out the windows of his home, the doors and windows of neighbouring properties and the windows of a house five houses down the street.

Gas officials on the scene of a gas explosion in Welch Road in Southsea

Gas officials on the scene of a gas explosion in Welch Road in Southsea

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service said the explosion wrecked more than 50 per cent of the back of the man’s terraced property. He was named locally as Reginald Bridgman.

When firefighters arrived at 23 Welch Road, Southsea, they found the bay window from the front of Mr Bridgman’s home lying in the road.

The explosion was caused by a gas cooker left on overnight.

Neighbouring properties were evacuated and remain empty while structural engineers examine the buildings to check whether they are safe.

Becca Jones, 18, and her mum Kate were woken by the blast at 4am to discover all their ground floor windows had been shattered.

Becca said: ‘We came down and everything was covered in glass. I heard a huge bang and my room shook. It was really scary. I didn’t know what it was so we headed out into the road with everyone else.

‘All the glass in the front of the house had blown out.’

Kate and her daughter were evacuated from their home, which is three doors away from number 23.

Kate said: ‘Pieces of glass from next door’s windows flew out and embedded themselves in our back lawn.

‘It was a miracle no one was badly hurt. The whole thing was absolutely terrifying. I can’t believe people went through this every night during the blitz.’

Two crews from Southsea fire station arrived in Welch Road shortly after 4am.

Crew manager Dave Higgins said the initial call suggested a fire ‘in the open’.

But he added: ‘We were then told there had been a gas explosion and when we arrived we found the bay window from number 23 lying in the road as well as other debris.

‘Luckily, there was no fire, but it was quite a mess,’ he added.

They quickly established that Mr Bridgman was inside number 23.

Firefighters Simon Haswell and Steve Barfoot, wearing breathing apparatus, went inside and brought him out. He was then taken away in an ambulance.

Mr Higgins said he was taken to Queen Alexandra Hospital and was believed to be recovering from minor injuries and shock.

He said the force of the blast blew doors off several homes and shattered windows at others nearby.

Another neighbour, who lives a few doors from the scene but declined to be named, said: ‘I heard the bang and thought somebody had crashed a car and there had been an explosion.

‘I rushed into the road and I could hear the old boy in number 23 shouting and banging on the window so I called the police and the ambulance.

‘My wife and two children were inside at the time and we all had to get out into the street. We only moved here two months ago. The whole thing is hard to believe.’

While firefighters isolated the gas supply police cordoned off the road and evacuated one house next door. The other was empty, said Mr Higgins, whose team left the scene at 6am.

The road has now been reopened.

Mr Higgins said the explosion was believed to have been caused by an appliance which had been left on.

Station manager Dave Smith said: ‘The man usually sleeps in the back of the house but was asleep in the front room of the ground floor at the time of the explosion.

‘Had he been in the back of the house it could have been a very different outcome.

‘The explosion caused not only major structural damage to the elderly man’s house, but also the dividing walls to the adjacent properties,’ he added.

‘This is a very stark reminder of the dangers gas can cause.

‘People should always check any gas appliances or cylinders are fully turned off before they go to bed or leave their house.’

Affected residents were taken to a nearby Salvation Army centre where they were looked after by members of the Safer Portsmouth Partnership. Volunteers from the Fire and Emergency Support Service team were also called in to help those evacuated.

Chloe Boyce, a spokeswoman for Southern Gas Networks, said: ‘As Southern Gas Networks is responsible for the gas distribution network in this area, we were called to a property in Southsea early this morning following reports of an explosion.

‘We’ve carried out an investigation and can confirm the gas mains and services in the area are sound and have not contributed to what has happened. We can also confirm the explosion was caused by the gas cooker being left on. We’ve isolated the gas supply and done further checks which show there are no gas readings at all in the area.

‘This is a stark reminder to everyone to check gas appliances are fully turned off before they go to bed or leave their house. If anyone smells gas they should contact the National Gas Emergency Number on 0800 111 999.

‘Our thoughts are with the gentleman who has been injured today.’

Structural engineers are now examining buildings in Welch Road.