Explosive fire at site housing vaping supplies kills 1 outside Detroit, sends debris a mile away

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A fire that destroyed a building housing supplies for the vaping industry caused multiple explosions, killing one person and injuring a firefighter as the blasts rocked suburban Detroit, sending gas canisters and debris 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. Authorities urged people in the area to stay inside after the explosions began about 8:50 p.m. The fire was contained by late Monday and the ruins were still smoldering Tuesday, they said.

Joleen Vultaggio said she heard Monday night’s explosions at her home in Sterling Heights, 8 miles (13 kilometers) away. “It just freaked me out because it wasn’t like one boom, it was continuous and it was very intense,” she told The Detroit News.

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.”

The cause of the fire was not yet known and firefighters had not yet been able to inspect the ruined building because debris was still smoking, making it unsafe, Clinton Township Fire Chief Tim Duncan said Tuesday. The investigation is under the jurisdiction of the local fire department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, police said.

Tracy Morris, a spokesperson for the 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.

There appeared to be no problems with air quality, aside from the smoke drifting from the fire, Duncan said.

Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy did not have staff on the scene during Monday night’s fire but air monitoring by local hazardous materials crews “did not detect anything concerning,” said agency spokesperson Hugh McDiarmid Jr.

He added that agency staff determined that it does not appear that “any of the materials in the debris field would be hazardous.”

A 19-year-old man who is believed to have been just observing the fire died after being struck a quarter of a mile away by one of the canisters, Duncan said.

A firefighter was also injured, apparently after being struck by glass when one of the canisters struck the windshield of a fire vehicle. He was treated at a hospital and released, the fire chief said.

The gutted building had housed a distributor for the vaping industry called Goo which had more than 100,000 vape pens stored on-site, Duncan said. He said a truckload of butane canisters had arrived within the past week at the building and more than half of that stock was still on site when the fire began.

Township Supervisor Robert Cannon told a news conference Tuesday that the company was not permitted to have the canisters on site.

A business called Select Distributors that is “one in the same” as Goo was also operating out of the building, according to Duncan, who added that he believes it was supplying gas canisters for the local vaping industry for vape pens, along with other products. He said those canisters are believed to have accounted for the explosions that littered a large area with debris and shook his car repeatedly as he was driving to the scene Monday night.

“This is what you’re seeing strewn about the area, all the canisters, 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 Associated Press sent emails Tuesday seeking comment to the business, and also left phone and email messages with Goo.

Goo had received a township occupancy permit in September 2022 for the 26,700-square-foot (2,480-square-meter) building as a retail location for a “smoke shop/vape store” that would sell paraphernalia for vape products, said Barry Miller, superintendent for Clinton Township’s Building Department.

But while Goo had asked about getting zoning approval for using the building for warehousing and distribution, the township’s planning department told the company local zoning only allowed for retail, Miller said.

“Until police and fire perform their investigations we really won’t know the answers,” he said. “They have to find how much product was there, what was there. There’s a lot they’ll have to look into.”

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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