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Neighbor tells of trying to save couple killed in home explosion

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PORT ORCHARD, Wash. -- An elderly couple died after a violent explosion blew their home to pieces Tuesday morning.

The blast registered on the Richter scale and was felt 20 miles away at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor.

The cause of the blast is still under investigation, but officials said the homeowners used liquid propane to heat their house.

Police said the homeowners were 65-year-old Maria McDonald and her husband, 70-year-old William McDonald. The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office believes they were inside the home at the time of the explosion.

Neighbor Jon Rector said the blast was so strong it tossed him from his bed. He then rushed toward the wall of flames to try to save Maria and William but the intense heat was too much.

Rector said he heard calls for help coming from the fireball.

“I heard a whimpering sound,” said Rector. “I called out to Bill and Maria and it turned into a ‘help;’ very faint.”

Rector said he pushed through the pain of the injuries he got trying to reach the McDonalds and kept speaking to them.

“Hold on, we’re trying to get to you,” Rector said he told the homeowners.

But the flames were too hot and Rector said he had to back off.

“Kind of a shell shock,” said Rector. “It reminds me of a war zone.”

By Tuesday afternoon, officials found the homeowners' bodies where the bedroom used to be.

The blast sent debris dozens of yards throughout the neighborhood.

The county fire marshal said the home’s liquid propane tank survived the explosion. Investigators will soon begin detail measurements of the scene.

“Start the detailed examination grid by grid to identify things that could have caused fuel for the explosion and then, of course, ignition sources,” said Kitsap County Fire Marshal David Lyman.

The Kitsap Bank branch where Maria worked closed their doors on Tuesday. Through a statement, the bank said Maria’s coworkers said she had an infectious smile and a bubbly personality.

Maria’s customers were stunned to hear the news.

“I guess, I don’t know,” said Matt Zawlocki. “I’m in shock.”

For Rector, he just wishes he could have done more to save the neighbors he called quiet and friendly.

“It’s hard to come to grips know knowing that you couldn’t provide any type of help,” he said.

Natashia Dault worked with Maria for eight years at the Kitsap Bank in Port Orchard.

“Just a terrible tragedy for the community, for everybody who knows her. She was like a grandmother to me," Dault said. "She was an amazing person -- warm, comforting. She was loved and will be missed by everybody.

“She made everyone’s day. She was just that awesome person to be around that just made everything that much brighter.”

Fire investigators said they would be at the scene for several days trying to determine a cause for the explosion. In a news release issued late Tuesday night, the Kitsap County Sheriff's Office said detectives do not believe the blast was the result of criminal actions.

The sheriff's office said that the force and sound produced by the explosion were heard and/or felt from up to 20+ miles away and generated more than 550 calls to 911 within a 30-minute period.