Two multifamily houses were destroyed in an explosion Tuesday morning shortly after firefighters arrived to investigate a possible gas leak and firefighters evacuated residents.
It did not appear that any residents were injured in the blast in Paterson. Authorities said some firefighters were being evaluated for possible minor issues.
Firefighters who responded to the scene minutes after residents reported a possible gas leak heard hissing sounds coming from one of the homes and quickly evacuated the residences, city officials said.
Fire Chief Michael Postorino said 11 people lived in the two homes that were destroyed. He said about 15 other homes received some damage from the blast, such as broken windows or minor structure issues.
Charlie Hayek, the owner of a nearby store, told WNBC-TV that the owner of one of the homes came outside before the explosion to complain about the gas smell. He said the blast occurred not long after people had evacuated from their homes.
"If it happened 10 minutes before, it would have been a lot worse," Hayek told the station.
Public Service Electric & Gas, New Jersey's largest utility, said later Tuesday morning that it had turned off gas mains and electric service in the area. The utility said it didn't yet know the cause of the blast but would work with local officials to investigate it.
Homes and businesses on several nearby blocks were evacuated as a precaution. Many residents were congregating in a nearby park, awaiting word on when they would be allowed to return home.
"There was a very gassy smell," one nearby resident told WABC-TV. "I walked out and saw a whole bunch of people running."
A house explosion in New York City a week ago killed a fire battalion chief who was hit by falling debris. Authorities said the Bronx blast might have been caused by a tampered gas main. Two people have been arrested in connection with the explosion.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.