MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) – A house exploded early Tuesday, killing an elderly man inside and shaking homes up to two blocks away.

One neighbor reported seeing flames nearly 50 feet high.

Tax records show the home has gas heat, but fire officials said it was too early to say what caused the fire.

Neighbors say an elderly man lived alone in the home. A family member and neighbors identified him as 85-year-old Joseph Byk .

The ranch-style home in the city’s North End was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived and was reduced to rubble.

“The sky was just glowing red,” said neighbor Derek Webber, who alerted other neighbors after the blast. “I said, ‘Ashes are falling on houses, be careful.”‘

Neighbor Lynn Hutchinson said her house shook during the explosion.

“I thought it was one of those mini-earthquakes,” she said. “I sat there waiting for an aftershock.”

Linden Campbell, another neighbor, said he could see flames shooting 40 to 50 feet high.

Officials said there had been no reports of gas leaks at the home and none was found there or in nearby homes Tuesday.

State Fire Marshal Bill Degnan said investigators were trying to narrow down possible causes.

John Raymond, deputy state fire marshal, said gas explosions rarely occur in homes.

Fire Chief James Burkush said the home is the fourth in New England leveled by an explosion in the past three months.

Two houses heated by natural gas exploded in Massachusetts in the past month.

Neighbors smelled gas before a home exploded and killed a Somerset, Mass., woman and her dog last week. Two nearby houses were damaged.

Investigators say a gas leak from a 6-inch main caused a house explosion in Gloucester, Mass., last month, injuring the homeowner.

Natural gas was suspected in a blast that killed one person in Scituate, Mass., in December.

Natural gas is odorless but is treated with a chemical to make it smell like rotten eggs. Officials urge homeowners who smell gas to open doors, extinguish flames and leave immediately. They advise not flipping light switches.

or making calls – even by cell phone – because sparks could trigger explosions.

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Associated Press Writer Norma Love in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.

AP-ES-02-24-09 1725EST

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