Neighbors recall tragic explosion scene
Dana Clark was still in shock Thursday morning.
Just the night before, her neighbor and friend, John Wilkinson, had called and asked whether his two boys could come over to her place.
Mr. Wilkinson told Ms. Clark that he smelled gas in his house at 109 Sunny Valley Road.
About an hour later, Ms. Clark's own home nearly imploded.
She had just gotten off the phone from a second call from Mr. Wilkinson, who had said "Everything is fine. You can send the boys home," Ms. Clark recounted.
"I'd just hung up the phone and said `Boys' when there was this tremendous boom and my French doors on either side of the fireplace -- one bowed in like it was imploding in and the one on the other side bowed out, like it was exploding out," Ms. Clark recalled.
"Wood chips flew off of the door frames and across the room. There was a tremendous sucking in of air. I thought, my God, my house is imploding," Ms. Clark said. "The whole house shook and the walls on that side of the house buckled in."
Just yards away, Mr. Wilkinson's house had exploded. His friend, Anthony Fratino III, who was helping either fix a propane leak or install a new, small propane heater, was killed in the blast, police said.
Mr. Fratino's son, Nicholas, 9, was seriously injured with lacerations and burns, police said. He and Mr. Wilkinson, who also had serious lacerations and burns, were transported to hospitals out of the area, according to police.
Ms. Clark immediately called 911, then called the boy's mother, Alice Wilkinson, who had been at work that day at Watson Foods, where she is a scientist.
"I had to tell my friend, `You have to come home. Your house just blew up," Ms. Clark said. "How do you do that? Alice immediately said `Where are my boys?' "
Alice Wilkinson, pregnant with the couple's third child, with a due date in October. was on the scene quickly and with her boys in the Clarks' house.
"I went outside," Ms. Clark said. "There were people everywhere. The emergency responders were already on the scene. I couldn't believe what I saw," Ms. Clark said. "Only the chimney was standing."
"The boys are at their grandmother's now," Ms. Clark said Thursday morning. "They were worried about their beds and their toys. That's their world at those ages."
Mr. Wilkinson was sent to the burn unit in a Bridgeport hospital. He has broken bones and burns on his face, Ms. Clark said Alice Wilkinson had told her.
John Wilkinson had been laid off from his job as a college professor. They had lived next door to Ms. Clark for several years, having lived in a small house on the corner on Sunny Valley Lane they had rented from the Nature Conservancy until they bought the two-story farmhouse at 109 Sunny Valley Road in 2004.
"They were working on the house," neighbor Bill Weed said. "I noticed they were scraping it down and getting ready to paint."
"We were getting ready to go to a Farmland Preservation meeting when the boom came. It wasn't like any noise I'd ever heard before," Mr. Weed said. "I thought a plane had crashed into the hill here."
Mr. Weed said he and his wife, Bonnie, drove down the road minutes later and "the road was full of people, emergency responders. And the only image was that chimney standing there."
"Everything they had was gone in the finality of a second," Mr. Weed added.
A prayer vigil for the Fratino and Wilkinson families will be held Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at John Pettibone School in New Milford.