The explosion happened at about 8 p.m. inside a garage at 7716 La Finca Road near Elm City, authorities said.
Paramedics transported Brad Watson to Pitt County Memorial Hospital with upper chest burns, according to the victim's brother-in-law. Watson was later taken to the North Carolina Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill for additional treatment.
Two neighboring homes were evacuated after the blast.
“I had just put my children to bed and heard a loud explosion,” neighbor Cathy Battle said. "It was a tremendous explosion ... and I was thinking that he ran into a house."
Authorities said Watson was the only person near the home at the time of the explosion. The blast blew off both garage doors and left twisted metal in the front yard of the home.
The State Bureau of Investigation was called to assist with the investigation. Authorities said late Tuesday that they will not allow anyone inside the home until the cause of the explosion is determined.
At this point, authorities said a propane tank could have been a factor.