HOPKINS, Minn. — Authorities said an elderly couple died in a house explosion in a Hopkins neighborhood Wednesday morning.
Hopkins Fire Chief Dale Specken said fire crews and police officers were called to the area of 2nd Street North and 21st Avenue North around 10:15 a.m. Wednesday after reports of an explosion and fire.
Specken said some people heard or felt the explosion as far as 15 blocks away.
Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) traffic cameras showed large plumes of smoke billowing above the area. When KARE 11 crews arrived at the scene, the house was collapsed and engulfed in flames.
"In my 30-years plus, I have never seen an explosion like this," Specken said.
First responders located the bodies of the homeowners, a husband and wife in their 80s, inside the home. Family members identified the victims as 85-year-old Herb Vassar and his 83-year-old wife Sharon Vassar of Hopkins.
Granddaughter Alyssa Kennedy described the couple as "spritely," saying they loved to camp and just returned from a week-long getaway last week. She recalled that Herb built the home himself in 1964, and explained that he loved to mow the lawn and tend to his garden.
While fire officials would not speculate on a cause, Kennedy told reporters that the home's water heater recently began leaking and her grandfather had installed a new one himself the night before the explosion. While he was a 60-year carpenter and capable of doing many things himself, she believes that may be what triggered the blast.
"He's 85... we wonder if maybe he didn't tighten something enough and that was the cause of the explosion," she said.
Earlier in the day, Chief Specken said crews were searching a debris field.
"We really won't know anything until after we get into more of the structure," Specken said. "But at this time, it was a pretty violent explosion, as you can see."
Specken added that crews found no gas leaks on the exterior of the home. CenterPoint Energy has checked the rest of the area and said there are no current gas leaks or issues with other houses.
Kennedy said she regularly visited her grandparents and had a long phone conversation with Sharon Vassar on Monday. She is waiting for the gravity of what happened to sink in.
"It's a weird thing when its already your grandparents and you expect someday they'll die... but then it happens suddenly and it's both of them... that's just a whole different... whole different vibe," Kennedy reflected.
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