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Published: Thursday, 5/10/2007

Fire investigation team examines Reliance ruins in Bedford Township

An investigator takes photos of the aftermath of an explosion and fire that struck Reliance Propane and Fuel Oil. An investigator takes photos of the aftermath of an explosion and fire that struck Reliance Propane and Fuel Oil.

TEMPERANCE - Amid small, isolated fires, Bedford Township fire officials yesterday continued their investigation into the propane blaze that erupted Tuesday just north of Toledo.

The aftermath of one of the largest fires in Bedford's history painted the landscape surrounding Reliance Propane and Fuel Oil, at 180 Lavoy Rd.

Scraps of 20-pound propane tanks littered the farm field to the east and nearby residents said they were still shaken.

Reliance worker Robert Wilcox, Jr., the only person seriously injured in the blaze, was released from St. Vincent Medical Center yesterday after driving himself to the hospital Tuesday for treatment of first, second, and third-degree burns.

The 27-year-old Toledo resident said the fire erupted from static electricity or a spark created by the screwdriver he was using to loosen a screw while trying to drain gas from a propane tank.

"Our working hypothesis is that during the process of preparing the 20-gallon tanks to be refilled, a static electrical charge caused the spark that caused the initial fire," Reliance spokesman David Rohrbacher said.

"What caused it to spread beyond the initial flash is something that we really don't understand right now," he said.

He said if investigators find the cause of the fire was preventable, the company will "certainly change anything we need to."

Bedford Fire Chief John Bofia said the official cause of the fire and the amount of damages are still under investigation.

The Monroe County Fire Investigation Team - made up of officials from the Michigan State Police Department, the

Monroe County Sheriff's Office, and the city of Monroe, Monroe Township, Frenchtown Township, and Bedford Township fire departments - will lead the investigation.

Smith Road Elementary student Samuel Ansara said he was scared when the propane tanks "started popping" and then again when fire department officials rushed through his door and told his parents they needed to get out because "the whole thing was going to blow up."

Samuel said he decided to take yesterday off from fifth grade because "it's been a rough night, so I wasn't in the mood to go."

He and his stepfather, Scott Lederman, stood outside their house Tuesday to watch the 10-foot flames and listen to the pop of propane tanks exploding.

"It seemed like a movie," said Mr. Lederman, who felt his home rattle during one of the bigger explosions. "It was pretty wild."

But the show Tuesday was soon over, as they and others within the 1 1/2-mile radius of the fire were evacuated by emergency personnel.

The plant on Lavoy Road is a part of more than 200 industrial acres in southeast Bedford, just west Erie Township.

Bedford and Erie Township officials have been discussing a joint industrial park in the area between South Dixie Highway and South Telegraph Road for two years.

Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch at: babloch@theblade.com or 419-724-6168.

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