A fire Wednesday morning caused an explosion in a garage, destroying one home and damaging another in the Mill Creek subdivision in greater Bluffton.
Neighbors said the explosion occurred when the fire reached guns, ammunition and a car stored in the garage.
A couple and their dog escaped the house on Blakers Boulevard. No injuries have been reported, Bluffton Township Fire District Capt. Randy Hunter said.
Hunter said the fire's cause won't be known until an investigation is completed.
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Neighbor Laura Sampson said she saw the first flames coming from the back of the garage, where the water heaters are located in many of the neighborhood's homes.
Bluffton firefighters were dispatched at 7:11 a.m. and arrived about eight minutes later, Hunter said. They saw flames and heavy smoke as they approached the home.
Nearby homes were evacuated. The fire melted the siding and scorched the particle board outer walls of a house next door.
"If (firefighters) hadn't been here so fast, this other house wouldn't have made it, either," said neighbor Matthew Gano, who helped with the evacuation.
Neighbors said the couple had moved in several months ago and had been renovating the house and sprucing up the lawn.
"They just got their landscaping done and had been putting a lot of work in the house," said Dawn Jackson, who lives across the street and reported the fire. "I saw their whole house going up, and I just kept thinking, 'That's all their memories.'"
Jackson's boyfriend, Lou Novak, said the fire was "incredibly hot," and the flames extended 20 feet above the roof. He said the explosion sent debris flying, some of which landed in his yard.
Jackson said ashes were drifting around the scene at first, and some neighbors worried more homes would catch fire.
Ashley Sampson, 20, who lives in the damaged neighboring house, awoke to a popping noise at about 7:15 a.m. When she went outside to check, she saw the garage on fire and flames coming from the side of her house.
"I started freaking out and had a panic attack," Sampson said. "I just ran back inside to wake up all of my family and get them out and get the animals.
"The scariest part was running back in and out to get things, because we didn't know how far the fire was going to spread or when the car in their garage was going to blow."
Her mother, Laura Sampson, said the family of five, as well as their three dogs and a cat, made it out safely. The Red Cross said it helped the family by providing money for lodging and food, and toiletry items.
The couple who lived in the destroyed home declined to comment. Hunter said he did not know their names, and neighbors declined to provide it.
Hunter said four engine companies and one truck company responded, and firefighters had to fight the fire using an aerial hose.
It took about 45 minutes to get the fire under control, Hunter said.
Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.