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A can of gasoline accidentally knocked over by two teenagers might have started a blaze and explosion at a hardware store that killed three firefighters, fire officials said Tuesday.

Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen said the boys, ages 15 and 13, were playing outside Long Island General Supply Co. on Sunday when the gas can was knocked over.

The boys ran to the 15-year-old's home. His father returned with them, tried to put out the fire with water and then called 911. The boys, whose names were not released, were not charged.

Von Essen said the official cause could not be determined until investigators finished clearing rubble.

Funerals will be held Thursday for firefighters Harry Ford and Brian Fahey, and Friday for John Downing. They are survived by their wives and a total of eight children. Two hospitalized firefighters remained in critical and serious condition Tuesday.

Von Essen said it appeared that the gasoline "went down a ramp in the back of the building, underneath the door."

A water heater might have ignited the gas fumes. At some point, "the tops may have begun to pop" on the "benzenes and lacquers and paints" stored in the basement, Von Essen theorized.

Downing, 40, and Ford, 50, were crushed to death by the tumbling roof and facade. Fahey, 46, was trapped inside and died of smoke inhalation.

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