Margaretville woman killed as explosion destroys home
By Brian Sweeney
An 80-year-old Margaretville resident was killed Thursday when a huge explosion and subsequent fire destroyed her home on West Hubbell Hill Road.
Florence Mathis, well-known in the community for her many years of volunteerism, was killed instantly in the explosion that erupted about 6 p.m. and was reportedly heard for miles.
Investigators said that the large blast destroyed much of the house and the ensuing fire left nothing but rubble. A car in an attached garage was also lost in the fire, as was a nearby tractor.
Firefighters remained on the scene through Friday, dousing “hot spots” from the intense blaze. Debris from the explosion was strewn over a wide swath.
Mrs. Mathis lived alone and was the only one present at the time of the explosion. Investigators said she died instantly as a result of the blast.
Emergency personnel initially held out hope that Mrs. Mathis was not home at the time of the explosion. Family members were contacted in an effort to determine Mrs. Mathis’ whereabouts, but it was eventually concluded that she was home during the explosion. Her body was located in the house around 10 p.m.
Mrs. Mathis had lived many years on Hubbell Hill. She was best known as a Girl Scout leader. She devoted more than 50 years to the Girl Scouts and continued to do work on the organization’s behalf. She also served as a classroom volunteer at Margaretville Central School for many years.
Delaware County Emergency Services Director Rich Bell said his department is still tracing the origins of the fire. He indicated that the explosion was initiated in the basement and that propane is one of the probable causes.
“There was a propane tank on premises,” Mr. Bell noted. “We’re reviewing all of the instruments that were in the basement.”
He said the house was not heated with propane, but that gas was utilized for alternate sources.
“It’s still under investigation, hopefully by Friday we’ll have determined a cause,” concluded Mr. Bell.
Patt and Bill Svoboda lived less than 150 yards from Mrs. Mathis and were among those who felt the impact of the explosion.
Mrs. Svoboda said her family was having dinner when they heard a huge noise that caused their house to shudder.
“It felt like a large piece of furniture had fallen upstairs. It was like something had hit the house,” Mrs. Svoboda re-called.
After finding nothing amiss inside their house, she and her husband raced outside to survey their property. Mrs. Svoboda said her husband quickly hollered for her to call 911.
“I didn’t even know if it was my house at that point,” she explained. When she finally saw a plume of smoke across the road, Mrs. Svoboda thought that a plane had crashed.
Witnessing the smoke pouring from Mrs. Mathis’ house, Mr. Svoboda began running toward the house. He was met by Mrs. Mathis’ son and daughter-in-law, Greg and Roxanne, who live on an adjacent parcel and were racing to the scene in their truck.
“There was absolutely nothing anybody could do,” recalled Mrs. Svoboda who said the house was engulfed in flames moments after the explosion.
Firefighters from Mar-garetville, Arkville, Hal-cottsville, Fleischmanns, Roxbury and Stamford provided either firefighting assistance or standby services. Margaretville Hospital ambulance personnel were also on the scene.
Mrs. Svoboda said that rescue workers were on the scene within five minutes but that the house was already destroyed. Mrs. Svoboda said the blast was so powerful it blew off the garage doors and the roof.
Days after the tragedy, Mrs. Svoboda still could not believe what had occurred.
“It’s just a total shock, it’s such a loss to the community. Florence was still active in Girl Scouts. Half the school knew her — she was a ‘Room Grandma.’ It’s such an overwhelming loss.”