Explosive Fire at Site Used by Vape Suppliers Kills 19-Year-Old, Sends Debris a Mile Away

Explosive Fire at Site Used by Vape Suppliers Kills 19-Year-Old, Sends Debris a Mile Away
Firefighters battle an industrial fire in the Detroit suburb of Clinton Township on March 4, 2024, in a still from video. (Courtesy of WXYZ via AP)

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich.—A fire that destroyed a building which housed suppliers for the vaping industry caused multiple explosions that killed one person and injured a firefighter as the blasts rocked suburban Detroit, sending gas cannisters and debris shooting far into the air, authorities said.

The debris fell Monday night as far as a mile (1.6 kilometers) away, the Clinton Township Police Department said on Facebook. As the fire and explosions raged, authorities urged people in the area to stay inside after the explosions began about 8:50 p.m. Monday. Officials said the fire was contained by late Monday and the ruins were still smoldering Tuesday.

Clinton Township Fire Chief Tim Duncan said Tuesday morning that the building housed two businesses, one of them a distributor for the vaping industry called Goo which had more than 100,000 vape pens stored on-site. He said a truckload of butane cannisters had arrived within the past week at the building and more than half of that stock was still on site when the fire began.

A 19-year-old man died after being struck a quarter of a mile away by one of the cannisters, he said, calling his death “very unfortunate.” Mr. Duncan said it’s believed the man was “just observing” the fire when he was struck.

“The person was essentially about a quarter of a mile down the road here and did suffer injury from one of these flying cannisters,” Mr. Duncan said at a Tuesday news briefing.

He said the building also housed a business called Select Distributors that he said he believed supplied gas cannisters for the local vaping industry for vape pens, along with other products. He said those cannisters are believed to have accounted for the explosions that littered a large area with debris.

A firefighter was also injured when one of the cannisters struck the windshield of a fire vehicle. The firefighter was believed struck by glass and was treated and released from a hospital, Mr. Duncan said.

Mr. Duncan said that as he was driving to the fire scene Monday night, his car was shaken repeatedly by the distant explosions of the gas cannisters.

“This is what you’re seeing strewn about the area, all the cannisters, which had nitrous, had butane and they had some other products in there,” he said. “At that point, we’re basically dodging all these things going through the air.”

According to its website, Select Distributors is a wholesale supplier of novelties, phone accessories, and other merchandise to discount stores, dollar stores, wholesalers, and other stores. Glass products and nitrous oxide were also advertised on the site.

The business did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Mr. Duncan said the cause of the fire was not yet known and firefighters had not yet been able to inspect the ruined building because it was unsafe because debris was still smoking.

Tracy Morris, a spokesperson for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), said certified fire investigators from the agency, along with canines specifically trained in detecting accelerants, arrived at the fire scene early Tuesday. She said the ATF was just beginning its investigation and could provide no immediate information on the fire.

White smoke and an orange glow could still be seen above the remnants of the building Tuesday morning in Clinton Township. Earlier, news helicopter videos showed a massive, bright orange area of fire with bursts of flames within the blaze that looked like explosions.

“There was nothing but fireballs,” Jeffrey Korby, who lives near the business, told WXYZ-TV. “I was concerned about getting my kids out of the house.”

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel told WDIV-TV after 11 p.m. Monday that the fire had been contained.

“Their concern right now is—obviously they’re taming the fire, but now, what’s going on with that air quality?” Mr. Hackel said. “We have a HAZMAT unit that’s out trying to test the air quality so we can get further updates.”

Mr. Duncan said Tuesday morning that there appeared to be no problems with the air quality, aside from the smoke drifting from the fire.

Police said the investigation is under the jurisdiction of the local fire department and the ATF.

Kevin Felster told The Detroit News he was on his way to Clinton Township when he saw the fire and heard the explosions. He said he got out of his car and saw pieces of metal—from the size of a spray can to the size of a car wheel—on the ground.

“It was heavy stuff and it was all charred black,” Mr. Felster said. “I guarantee you … if that came flying through the air at any velocity at all, it would just shatter your head like nothing.”

Joleen Vultaggio said she heard the explosions from 8 miles (13 kilometers) away at her home in Sterling Heights.

“It just freaked me out because it wasn’t like one boom, it was continuous and it was very intense,” she said.

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