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Large propane leak created 'perfect storm' for Uintah County explosion, investigators say

Published: Friday, April 5 2013 8:18 p.m. MDT

JENSEN, Uintah County — Investigators say a pair of truck-mounted liquid propane tanks failed to maintain pressure, allowing all of their contents to fill a Uintah County business that was demolished in an explosion that also damaged four homes and two dozen industrial buildings.    

The March 2 blast occurred at Adler Hot Oil shortly after midnight. It reduced the oilfield service company's shop to nothing more than a heap of twisted metal and shredded insulation.

"We had nearly the perfect storm inside the building," Jensen Assistant Fire Chief Brett Lane said Friday.

Investigators determined that a combined 450 gallons to 475 gallons of liquid propane escaped from two 250-gallon propane tanks mounted on a truck inside Adler's shop, Lane said. The escaping propane mixed with the air inside the shop until it reached "a near perfect ignitable mixture," the assistant chief said, adding that there were six possible ignition sources identified inside the building.

Determining why the tanks leaked was not part of the fire department's investigation, Lane said. Authorities also did not identify "a single person to blame," based on the evidence they reviewed, he said.

"We also have no indicators of criminal or fraudulent activity," said Lane, who called the blast "an accident that unfortunately damaged 26 structures."

Four of those businesses and one home still cannot be occupied, according to Matt Cazier, director of community development for Uintah County.

Private investigators, insurance company representatives and attorneys for those whose homes and businesses suffered damage were still on the ground at the blast site Friday, Lane said.

"Activities on-site include a controlled flare stack being used to remove propane from portable tanks," he said. "Destruction of nearby buildings has already begun in the effort to rebuild and continue to operate the affected companies."

Matt Betts Trucking is one of the businesses that plans to remain in the Ashley Valley Industrial Park, despite the damage to its truck shop and offices, said Robert Roth, the company's director of safety and human resources.

"There'll be some extensive remodeling or rebuilding of it for sure," he said. "It's a pretty huge loss."

A former police officer, Roth said he understands why the fire department investigation took so long to complete.

"It's a catastrophic event — millions of dollars in damage, long-term liability for companies involved — and I think they want to get it right," he said. "I don't blame them for that."

A final dollar amount for the damage is still unknown, but Lane put it at "about $40 million."

E-mail: gliesik@deseretnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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