Fayette County

Propane torch set off UPS explosion in Lexington

Aerial photo from Wednesday's morning explosion at the UPS freight hub on Blue Sky Parkway in Lexington.
Aerial photo from Wednesday's morning explosion at the UPS freight hub on Blue Sky Parkway in Lexington. Lexington Fire Department

A propane torch set off the explosion Wednesday that heavily damaged a UPS freight center, a Lexington fire investigator said Thursday.

The torch likely ignited acetylene gas released from tanks carried inside a truck inside the facility, said Maj. Robert King of the department's fire investigation unit. Forty-five tanks of acetylene, which is used in welding and to cut metal, were carried by the UPS box truck.

The tanks of gas did not explode inside the center as initially reported by a fire official Wednesday, said Lt. Jessica Bowman, the fire department spokeswoman. All the tanks were accounted for in the subsequent investigation. "What that tells us is that none of the tanks exploded," Bowman said.

UPS said Wednesday that "initial reports indicate the cause may have been a gas leak from materials contained in a trailer."

When asked, a UPS spokesperson was unable to elaborate on why the tanks were inside the facility, saying the company does not release information on employees or customers.

Crews are working on the safe removal of the 45 tanks of acetylene gas, King said Thursday afternoon. During that process, they will check to see which, if any, of the tanks had leaks that could have led to ignition, according to King.

"We're going to take any safe precaution we have to," King said. "Hopefully we can be done in a day. It may be through the weekend; we're not sure."

In addition to Lexington fire investigators, the Department of Transportation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and UPS Risk Management were examining the UPS freight services center off Blue Sky Parkway Thursday, Lt. Bowman said. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also had investigators on scene.

The crews have been working from the outside in and are eliminating any possible causes along the way, Bowman said.

Eight people were sent to the hospital Wednesday following the explosion. Two had burns and concussion-like symptoms, and they were in fair condition later Wednesday. Bowman did not have an update on the victims' conditions Thursday.

King said the most seriously injured, the driver of the truck carrying the tanks, was communicating and in good spirits.

The driver was still in the truck when the explosion occurred, King said. The operator of the propane torch also was injured.

The other six people were in the vicinity of the blast and taken to the hospital for evaluation and observation, officials said Wednesday. They were expected to be treated and released Wednesday.

A local UPS freight management team visited those who were affected by the explosion, a UPS spokesman Matthew O'Connor said.

Heavy damage occurred to interior and exterior walls and the roof of the building, which is a maintenance facility used for vehicle upkeep, fire officials said Wednesday.