New Hampshire fire investigators are calling it a “Christmas miracle” that no one died in an explosion just after 5 a.m. inside the Element Hotel in Lebanon.
However, 10 people suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the Christmas Eve blast.
“As the [Lebanon] chief said to me, ‘It’s a Christmas miracle,’ and it really is,” New Hampshire State Fire Marshal Paul Parisi told reporters Tuesday. “It’s unfortunate that we have had several people injured, but it’s a miracle that no one was killed.”
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The Lebanon Fire Department said two firefighters checking out a report of smoke were forcing their way into an electrical room when the blast sent a damaging shockwave through the first level of the building. A small fire also was located on the fifth floor of the property in a utility room, investigators said.
A handful of guests needed to be taken out of first-floor windows before the 80 hotel guests were brought to a nearby sister property to stay warm.
Photos from inside the Element, shared with necn and NBC10 Boston by the Lebanon Fire Department, show the hotel is just too wrecked to be occupied right now.
“It actually took the door of the hotel room directly across, and embedded the door into an interior wall,” Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Christopoulos said. “It’s pretty impressive to see. So there was a lot of energy.”
Christopoulos said firefighter Todd Hamilton suffered a head injury, broken ribs, and a broken arm that’ll need surgery. He is receiving treatment at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, which is close to the Element.
Duty Captain Jeffrey Egner was also transported to DHMC for treatment of a head injury and singe burns, Christopoulos said. Egner was released from the hospital, according to a news release.
Eight hotel guests were also seen at DHMC for minor injuries, including from slips and falls, the Lebanon Fire Department said.
"I’m concerned about the firefighters," said hotel guest Shih-in Ma of Pennsylvania, who was uninjured in the explosion.
Ma said following a fire alarm, many of the hotel guests had gathered near the entrance of the property.
"There were two sliding doors and one of them was open, but when the explosion happened, we could see the whole thing bent," the traveler recalled. "I’ve never seen anything like that – the glass and metal just bent."
Ma was optimistic she would be able to retrieve her belongings from the hotel in order to continue her holiday week travels through New England.
However, Parisi said water damage may have impacted some personal property in the hotel rooms, due to pipes that ruptured in the explosion.
Mary Corcoran of Pennsylvania said she was fast asleep when the fire alarm and an announcement over the building’s public address system jolted her awake.
“They were telling us to evacuate,” Corcoran said. “As we were headed out, something exploded and people started running. And we kind of gathered out here and were shocked.”
Christopoulos and Parisi said investigators from several agencies, including electrical and mechanical experts, are now trying to figure out what happened. However, both fire officials said they are sure it was nothing criminal.
Because the hotel is so large and there’s just so much to investigate across five floors, pinpointing a cause could take days, Christopoulos said.
The hotel will remain off-line for the foreseeable future, because of damage inside, the chief added.