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

Fire departments battle an industrial fire near 15 Mile Road and Groesbeck Highway in the Detroit suburb of Clinton Township, on Monday, March 4, 2024. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News via AP)

Fire departments battle an industrial fire near 15 Mile Road and Groesbeck Highway in the Detroit suburb of Clinton Township, on Monday, March 4, 2024. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News via AP)

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — A fire that destroyed a building which housed supplies 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.

Joleen Vultaggio said she heard Monday night’s 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 told The Detroit News.

Clinton Township Fire Chief Tim Duncan said Tuesday morning that the gutted building housed 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.” 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,” Duncan said at a Tuesday news briefing.

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, Duncan said.

A business called Select Distributors that Duncan said is “one in the same” as Goo was also operating out of the building and he said he believed it was supplying 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.

Goo had received a township occupancy permit in September 2022 for the 26,700-square-foot (24,80-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 the 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.”

A message and email seeking comment from Goo was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Duncan, the fire chief, said investigators would be looking into the legality of what was stored in the building as part of their investigation.

“Our last inspection did not show this amount of material in that building, so we’re going to look into that. Some of the reports we’re still looking into is obviously the legality of everything that’s in there,” he said.

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.

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.

Police said the investigation is under the jurisdiction of the local fire department and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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.

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.”

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

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.”

Midwest

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