Fayette County

Multiple victims treated after explosion in Lexington UPS building

An explosion ripped through walls and the roof of a UPS freight service center in Lexington Wednesday, sending eight victims to the hospital and launching a local and federal investigation into the cause.

The building on Blue Sky Parkway was severely damaged, and fire Battalion Chief Jason Wells said workers are "extremely lucky" the injuries weren’t worse.

The first two victims taken to the hospital had burns and possible concussions, Wells said. They were in fair condition. Another six people in the vicinity of the explosion were taken to the hospital for observation as a precaution. All were expected to be treated and released.

A truck and trailer with a tank carrying acetylene exploded inside the facility about 7:40 a.m., Wells said not long after the blast. Acetylene is a gas used in welding and cutting metals. But the cause of the explosion wasn't known, Wells said.

In confirming the explosion, UPS said, "Initial reports indicate the cause may have been a gas leak from materials contained in a trailer."

"UPS is working with local authorities and cannot provide additional detail while there is an ongoing investigation," Matthew O’Connor, senior public relations manager, said in an email.

Later Wednesday, Wells said, "it was too early to tell" if the acetylene caused the explosion.

In addition to local fire investigators, who had to wait to get inside the building until it was safe to do so, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent three explosives experts and one fire expert to assist.

Initially, the blast wasn't suspicious.

"Nothing leads us to believe this is anything other than an accidental explosion," the fire department tweeted. "The building has been evacuated and everyone is accounted for. We will remain on the scene for several hours investigating and making sure the area is safe."

Blast damage to a truck and equipment in the UPS freight service center was visible as Lexington firefighters worked at the scene of the explosion Wednesday. Charles Bertram cbertram@herald-leader.com

After the blast, there was a small fire in the building, but the explosion blew most of the fire out, Wells said.

There is “significant structural damage” to the building, including the roof, internal walls and external walls, Wells said. The damage at the back of the building was the most visible.

There also were small leaks of acetylene from separate tanks, but those leaks were not dangerous, said fire department spokeswoman Jessica Bowman.

The building is a maintenance facility used for vehicle upkeep, Wells said. Some type of work was being done with the truck that blew up.

Employees reported the blast was felt inside their nearby businesses and buildings.

"There is dust on the desks where it shook the building so hard," said Tammy Hodge, a Brown Sprinkler employee.