The Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office has ruled that the September explosion at the LEAP building in Farmington was caused by a severed propane line.

According to Maine Department of Public Safety Spokesman Steve McCausland, the fire marshal's report said the explosion was caused when the underground propane line was severed during the installation of one of four bollards, drilled into the ground near the building.  Investigators have concluded that one of those posts severed the line, McCausland said, causing the propane leak and the explosion that leveled the building.

According to the Maine Department of Public Safety, the post in green is the bollard that caused the damage to the propane line , which is encased in the yellow plastic sleeve, at the Leap Building in Farmington, which led to the explosion that leveled the building. Photo  courtesy of the Maine Department of Public Safety

McCausland said the posts were installed on Sept. 10 and the explosion happened on Sept. 16.  The blast killed Farmington Fire Captain Michael Bell, injured six other Farmington Firefighters, along the Building Maintenance Supervisor Larry Lord, who remains hospitalized.

Fire Investigators said the bollard work was done by Techno Metal Posts of Manchester. According to McCausland,the 10-foot long posts were drilled into the ground about five feet away from the building into the paved parking lot. Each was sunk about seven feet, leaving three feet above ground.  The posts were installed to protect an outside air conditioning unit located next to the building, McCausland said.  The propane line was buried underneath the parking lot at a depth of about  2 ½ to 3 feet and connected the outside propane tank, located to the rear of the property, to the building through the basement wall at the rear corner. The parking lot had been paved following installation of the propane line last summer. The metal bollards are about 4 inches think, but each had an auger head which is 10 ½ inches wide that allows the post to be drilled into the ground.  It was the auger head that severed the propane line, which was encased in a plastic protective sleeve, McCausland said

According to McCausland, on Friday, Sept. 13, Lord discovered that the 500-gallon propane tank was empty and the propane supplier to the building was called and the tank was filled just after noon.  The following Monday morning, a second maintenance worker felt dizzy after being in the building a short time and he and Lord discovered that the propane tank was empty again.  McCausland said Lord called the fire department and then he opened windows and doors and told the staff members to leave. The fire department arrived at 8:13 a.m. and joined Lord in the basement looking for the source of the propane leak, while some firefighters went elsewhere in the building to make sure it was vacant.  The explosion took place at 8:28 a.m., McCausland added.

Although investigators have pinpointed what caused the damage to the gas line, the source of ignition that sparked the explosion can't be determined, according to McCausland.  There are a number of possible sources of ignition, including disruption of electricity, a light switch, furnace or static, he said.

According to fire investigators, no criminal charges are anticipated. The Farmington Police and Fire departments, Maine State Police, the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, the Maine Attorney General’s Office, the Maine Fuel Board, which oversees fuel storage, and the Public Utilities Commission, which oversees the Dig Safe program, all aided in the investigation.

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