Cliff Pinckard/The Plain Dealer via AP
January 12, 2016 08:40 AM

Authorities were combing through the charred remains of a house in Northfield Center Township, Ohio, early Tuesday to determine why the home suddenly exploded Monday night, killing a family of four, including two children.

“It is very sad, very sad,” Frank Risko, the fire chief of this small hamlet 20 miles southeast of Cleveland, told that city’s Plain Dealer newspaper.

“It’s difficult. This is our first fatality as long as I can remember … It’s not easy.”

The victims have not been publicly identified, but are said to be a mother and father and their two daughters, ages 8 and 12. The mother and daughters were found near the front of the house, on the first floor of the two-story colonial, the Plain Dealer said; the father was later found in a room at the back of the house.

The explosion at 7486 Skyhaven Road happened around 8:30 p.m. The cause is still under investigation, according to the Associated Press. Risko said early Tuesday that gas company employees do not believe it was caused by a natural gas leak, though that hasn’t been ruled out.

Neighbors described a loud bang, and rushed out to help.

“I thought it was like a firework or something, and I was going out to leave, and I see the whole house in flames,” Dylan Mabin told WJW-TV.

“We ran up to the house, and the back top was blown away,” added Randy Nickschinski, a neighbor who ran over to the burning building with his teenage son Nate. “Then we ran to the front, we tried kicking in the door. It was hard to get the door open, but he finally got it open, kicked in the door. That’s when the dog came running out.”

Nickschinski told the Plain Dealer: “There was a lot of fire, a lot of debris. It was very eerie … We were yelling, and nothing. We were just looking everywhere.”

They left the home, and then went in a second time. “You’d do the same thing if you got kids,” Nickschinski said. “It’s like a dream. It can’t be happening. It’s not happening.”

Nickschinski’s daughter Danielle, 18, said she had babysat for the family’s two young girls. “They were very outgoing and nice,” she said. “They always wanted to play.”

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