Two suspected burglars were in hospital last night after causing this devastation while trying to steal a boiler from a West Bromwich house.

The pair were seriously injured in an explosion, which threw one of them out into the garden and left the other trapped under rubble for more than an hour.

The blast, at Edith Street, destroyed the disused property and damaged neighbouring houses.

Police believe the men may have been smoking as they tried to remove the gas pipe.

The man who was trapped under the rubble was taken to the trauma unit of Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham with burns to his hands.

The other, who is in his 30s, was rushed to Sand-well Hospital with 18 per cent burns.

Hundreds of houses on the road were evacuated by police following the gas explosion at about 2pm. Residents started returning to their homes at about 6pm.

West Midlands Police Superintendent Bob Spencer said: "We are yet to confirm, but we believe that people were in the house removing piping which unfortunately is quite common.

"We are pretty sure they are burglars.

"We think they have cut through a gas pipe while they were trying to remove the boiler. Who knows, they might have been smoking.

"One was found in the back garden under the rubble so it must have blasted him from the first level of the house."

Abdul Siyed, 20, was on a nearby road when he heard the explosion and saw a man coming towards him covered in blood.

He said: "There was a big bang and then a vibration that I could feel in my car.

"I saw someone coming down the road covered in blood and rubble - I couldn't even make his face out. He must have just got buried under the house.

"The house has been boarded up for ages and people go in and steal the copper piping."

A spokesman for West Midlands Fire Service said two fire crews were sent to the scene along with a rescue unit.

He added: "There was a strong smell of gas in the area. One man was trapped within the property."