Suspected gas explosion at Detroit vape shop kills man a quarter of a mile away

A 19-year-old man was hit on the head by a flying gas canister following the explosion

Martha McHardy
Wednesday 06 March 2024 16:32 GMT
1 killed by Clinton Township explosions

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A man has died after a suspected gas explosion at a Detroit vape shop a quarter of a mile away.

Fire Chief Tim Duncan said a 19-year-old man, who has not been named, was killed by flying debris after vape shop Goo and Select Distributors went up in flames in Clinton Township just before 9pm on Monday night.

Mr Duncan added that the 19-year-old was about a quarter of a mile away from the building that houses the shop when he was hit on the head by a flying gas canister.

The victim was taken to a hospital, where he died at around 4am, Mr Duncan said. A firefighter was also injured in the explosion after the truck he was inside was hit by debris. He is now recovering at home.

At a news conference, Chief Duncan said the incident happened after material inside the shop, including nitrous gas and butane, began exploding.

The sound of the explosion could reportedly be heard from miles away, with shrapnel flying as far as a half mile to a mile in all directions.

Firefighters battle an industrial fire in the Detroit suburb of Clinton Township
Firefighters battle an industrial fire in the Detroit suburb of Clinton Township (AP)

Mr Duncan said he could hear the booms from his home, which is about seven or eight miles away from the scene.

He added that when firefighters arrived on the scene, they were not immediately able to fight the flames because of the explosions that were sending large chunks of metal flying.

“There was no way we could put people in harm’s way like that,” Mr Duncan said.

He said that three fire vehicles were damaged by debris, two of which sustained tyre damage, while the third vehicle sustained extensive damage because it was hit by projectiles.

“We don’t know if that one’s ever coming back in service,” Mr Duncan said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the fire department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Authorities said investigators will be looking into exactly what was inside the building.

On Tuesday, township officials said that authorities believe canisters of butane, which is highly flammable, and other materials were being illegally stored in the building before the explosion.

Clinton Township Supervisor Robert Cannon said the business was not permitted to have the canisters. “They were illegally in that building,” he said at a news conference.

Fire departments fight an industrial fire near 15 Mile Road and Groesbeck Highway in Clinton Township
Fire departments fight an industrial fire near 15 Mile Road and Groesbeck Highway in Clinton Township (AP)

Other materials being stored in the building included nitrous oxide, lighter fluid, and vape pens, officials added.

Authorities confirmed that the shop was permitted to operate as a storefront with a back room to store retail products. But in the past week, the retailer – which authorities estimate to have been storing more than 100,000 vape pens – had received a truckload of butane and still had over half of that left, in addition to nitrous oxide, propane and other products, Mr Duncan said.

The shop was previously inspected by Clinton Township authorities in 2022, Clinton Township building superintendent Barry Miller added.

He said officials were aware of vape pens but found no canisters.

“Without those tanks we don’t have this issue, so that’s really the core of it,” Mr Miller said.

Clinton Township Emergency Management Coordinator Paul Brouwer said the owners have been cooperative and forthright so far.

The fire was under control on Wednesday morning but there were still some debris piles that are smoking with occasional canisters exploding, Mr Brouwer added.

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