Investigators probe cause of gas station explosion
Posted December 16, 2009 11:58 a.m. EST
Updated December 16, 2009 6:53 p.m. EST
Vass, N.C. — State and federal investigators were at a Moore County gas station Wednesday to determine the cause of a Tuesday night explosion that injured two men.
Two workers from Charlotte-based Law Petroleum Tanks, Lifts and Piping were using a power grinder on an underground petroleum tank at the Exxon Short Stop, at 4936 U.S. Highway 1 in the Lakeview community, shortly before 7 p.m. when gasoline vapors apparently ignited and exploded, authorities said.
Slabs of concrete buckled and caved into a crater near the gas pumps, and rocks and other debris rained down on a state Highway Patrol cruiser that was parked outside the station's convenience store.
"These slabs are probably 6 to 8 inches thick, so (the blast was) pretty impressive," said Frank Staples, safety officer with the Circle V Fire Department, which responded to the explosion.
The off-duty state trooper, who was inside the convenience store, told authorities that the fireball produced by the explosion went at least 20 feet into the air – higher than the canopy over the gas pumps.
"He said he looked up in time to see a man rolling underneath the truck," Staples said.
The two Law Petroleum workers suffered minor burns, authorities said. About 10 people were inside the convenience store at the time, but none was hurt.
Circle V Fire Chief Mike Cameron said the two men were trying to remove a vent pipe from the top of the fuel storage tank, and a spark from the power grinder ignited the remaining vapors inside the tank, which had just been cleaned.
Debris was scattered across an area 80 to 100 feet across, Cameron said.
"They were extremely fortunate because it could have really been a nasty situation," Staples said, adding that he hadn't responded to an incident like it in his 19 years as a firefighter.
Officials with Law Petroleum and managers for the Exxon Short Stop declined to comment Wednesday. Station managers said only that the convenience store would reopen Wednesday afternoon, although the gas pumps will be out of service indefinitely.
Law Petroleum has been in business since 1999. State Department of Labor officials said the company had a non-serious violation during a random inspection in 2004 that didn't involve any workplace injuries.