Farmington Explosion Caused by Severed Underground Propane Line
The Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office says the explosion in September at the LEAP building in Farmington was caused when the underground propane line was severed during the installation of one of four bollards, drilled into the ground near the building. Investigators have concluded that one of those posts severed the line, causing the propane leak and the explosion that leveled the building.
The installation of the posts took place on Tuesday, September 10. The explosion occurred six days later on September 16. The blast killed Farmington Fire Captain Michael Bell, injured six other Farmington Firefighters, along the Building Maintenance Supervisor Larry Lord, who remains hospitalized.
Fire Investigators said the bollard work was done by Techno Metal Posts of Manchester, Maine. The ten foot long posts were drilled into the ground about five feet away from the building into the paved parking lot. Each was sunk about seven feet, leaving three feet above ground. The posts were installed to protect an outside air conditioning unit located next to the building.
The propane line was buried underneath the parking lot at a depth of about 2 ½ to 3 feet and connected the outside propane tank, located to the rear of the property, to the building through the basement wall at the rear corner. The parking lot had been paved following installation of the propane line last summer. The metal bollards are about 4 inches think, but each had an auger head which is 10 ½ inches wide that allows the post to be drilled into the ground. It was the auger head that severed the propane line, which was encased in a plastic protective sleeve.
On Friday, September 13, Larry Lord discovered that the 500 gallon propane tank was empty and the propane supplier to the building -- C.N. Brown was called and the tank was filled just after noon time. The following Monday morning a second maintenance worker felt dizzy after being in the building a short time and he and Lord discovered that the propane tank was empty again. Lord called the fire department and then he opened windows and doors and told the staff members to leave.
The fire department arrived at 8:13 AM and joined Lord in the basement looking for the source of the propane leak, while some firefighters went elsewhere in the building to make sure it was vacant. The explosion took place at 8:28 AM.
Although investigators have pinpointed what caused the damage to the gas line, the source of ignition that sparked the explosion cannot be determined. There are a number of possible sources of ignition, including disruption of electricity, a light switch, furnace or static.
Fire investigators say no criminal charges are anticipated. Among the other agencies who participated in the investigation were the Farmington Police and Fire Departments, State Police, the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, the Maine Attorney General’s Office, the Maine Fuel Board, which oversees fuel storage, and the Public Utilities Commission, which oversees the Dig Safe program.