1 Killed as Explosion at Michigan Vape Distributor Sends Canisters Flying


A teenager in Michigan was struck and killed by a flying butane canister from an explosive fire at a vaping distributor’s warehouse about a quarter mile away on Monday night, the authorities said.

The 19-year-old man, who was not identified, was among several people injured from chunks of metal that the force of the explosion projected as far as a mile away, Mark Hackel, the county executive in Macomb County in Eastern Michigan, said in an interview.

The fire, which began shortly before 9 p.m. on Monday, filled the night sky with flames and smoke, prompted the police to urge residents to avoid the area and left a trail of charred debris along 15 Mile Road, a highway in Clinton Township, Mich.

“You could see the amount of fire just coursing in the sky, and the explosions were actually shaking the car,” Tim Duncan, the chief of Clinton Township’s fire department, said in a news conference on Tuesday morning.

The person who was killed was watching the blaze when he was struck by the canister, the fire chief said. A firefighter was among those injured when a piece of shrapnel pierced the windshield of his car and nicked his face. He was treated at a hospital and released.

David Storey, a hydraulic technician in Clinton Township, stood about 100 yards away from the blaze with his fiancée and about 15 others with his phone up, recording a percussion of loud booms and burning arcs of fiery canisters, which he said reminded him of fireworks.

“I felt the shock waves of it throughout my entire body,” he said in an interview, adding that the group had to back up several times because of the intensity of the heat.

Other people near the blaze posted video on social media that showed a wall of flames and a thick plume of black smoke funneling into the sky.

Select Distributors and Goo Smoke Shop, which the authorities said were located in the building, were warehousing more than half a truckload of butane canisters, which became projectiles when they caught fire.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of canisters, each measuring from 12 to 18 inches in length and weighing 10 to 15 pounds, had exploded, the authorities said.

Select Distributors sells vape products, butane, nitrous oxide tanks and CBD oils, according to its website.

Mr. Duncan, the fire chief, said the business had received a load of butane containers in the last week, and was also storing pallets of nitrous oxide and lighter fluid, more than 100,000 vape pens that contained lithium batteries, and knives.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Though the blaze died down around 4 a.m., a nearby railroad was limiting traffic on its tracks because of small explosions that continued to go off from the rubble of the burned-down building on Tuesday.

“We do anticipate there being some additional ones throughout the day,” Mr. Duncan said of the explosions.

The Detroit office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent fire investigators and accelerant detection K9s to assist the Clinton Township police in determining what caused the fire.

Overnight on Monday, the authorities used social media to appeal to residents to stay away from the site of the explosion, the force of which affected telecommunications systems, causing an outage of 911 phone calls for a police department about six miles away.

“We cannot stress enough the danger that is happening right now,” the Clinton Township Police Department said in one post. “Debris is being projected into the air and coming down as far as a mile away from the explosion.”

About six miles northwest, Sterling Heights Police Department said that its 911 phone lines were not functioning because of the explosion.

The electric utility was working on Tuesday to restore power to businesses near the vaping equipment warehouse. No evacuations took place in the area after air quality testing did not detect hazardous material, Mr. Hackel said.

Orlando Mayorquin contributed reporting.

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