NEW YORK (Reuters) - An apparent gas explosion and fire leveled two New Jersey homes and sent five firefighters to the hospital with minor injuries on Tuesday, officials said.

Firefighters responded to reports of a strong gas odor emanating from a multi-family home in a neighborhood of Paterson, a city about 20 miles northwest of Manhattan, at 9 a.m. local time, Paterson Fire Chief Michael Postorino said at a news conference.

"They could hear the gas hissing out" when they arrived, Postorino said. "They did a rapid evacuation as safely and effectively as they could."

About 20 minutes after the initial gas leak reports, the building exploded and burst into flames, he said.


Five firefighters suffered minor injuries in the incident and were being evaluated at a local hospital, Postorino said. There were no immediate reports of fatalities or other injuries.

In addition to the two destroyed homes, about 15 buildings were damaged in the blast or fire, he said.

Aerial footage of the scene showed pieces of plywood, window frames and charred building debris strewn across nearby lawns and sidewalks as firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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