SEATTLE -- A natural gas leak may have caused a massive explosion early Wednesday in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood -- obliterating at least one building, damaging many others and sending nine firefighters to the hospital.
One battalion chief and eight firefighters were transported to Harborview Medical Center after the incident, said Seattle fire spokeswoman Corey Orvold. These eight men and one woman all had been released as of 8 a.m. PST, according to the hospital. Their injuries ranged from cuts to abrasions.
While they being treated, their colleagues -- at least 67 personnel including firefighters, commanders and medics -- remained in a commercial part of Greenwood to douse lingering flames and smoke.
The fire was officially extinguished as of around 10:30 a.m., according to the Seattle Fire Department, leaving a lot of charred rubble behind.
About three hours before then, gas had finally been shut off in and around the explosion site, Puget Sound Energy reported. Utility crews had to drill holes into the pavement to access cutoff valves.
The long drilling process meant that for about six hours, firefighters had to put water on the fire from the edge of the rubble left by the explosion. Because of still-leaking gas, they couldn't go into the area where the explosion had occurred.
Chief: Firefighters had gone to examine gas leak
The first set of firefighters had rushed to the scene shortly after 1 a.m., after getting a call about a gas leak in Greenwood.
They were there, trying to "detect and determine where that gas was coming from," when the explosion occurred shortly before 1:45 a.m.
"We know, as firefighters, that this is a very dangerous job, and these things can happen from time to time," fire Chief Harold Scoggins said. "... They did all the things they needed to do to take care of business."
The blast destroyed at least one building that included a restaurant and shattered windows as far as two blocks away.
Its destructive force was evident in images tweeted by the fire department showing debris stuck in trees and littering the street, as well as the shattered windows of nearby storefronts and restaurants.
Witness: 'Debris just coming down from the sky'
Authorities haven't indicated any people were in the buildings hit hardest by the blast, with Orvold saying one or more dogs were on-site to help canvass the rubble.
Likewise, there was no suggestion that civilians nearby had been injured.
They were rattled, though, with witnesses telling KCPQ about bars in the vicinity shaking, damaged cars and shattered glass most everywhere in sight.
"The whole building, it just exploded," said Bryan Howard, a KCPQ photojournalist who'd arrived on the scene a minute or so earlier. "I took off running but when I turned back around, there was debris just coming down from the sky... I remember ... a giant fireball going up into the air."
Public buses shuttled people from multiple buildings, at least one of which included apartments, which were evacuated in the aftermath of the explosion, Orvold said. In the meantime, investigators converged on the site to determine what exactly caused it.
Just over six months ago, a gas leak caused a blast that injured one and brought down part of a Motel 6 in Bremerton, Washington, just across Puget Sound from Wednesday morning's blast.