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Published: Thursday, 11/16/2000

Tainted kerosene results in house fire

FINDLAY - A house fire that caused about $50,000 damage and burned two people is linked to gasoline-tainted kerosene that a woman bought at a Fuel Mart, a fire investigator said yesterday.

Graciela Cervantez told investigators she bought the tainted kerosene Monday, said Gary Braund, a Findlay fire investigator.

About 3 p.m. Monday, a fuel carrier accidentally pumped premium gasoline into the Fuel Mart's kerosene tank. The mixture, 50 per cent premium gasoline and 50 per cent K-1 kerosene, is potentially explosive.

Officials believe about 120 gallons of the gasoline-tainted kerosene were sold between 3 and 11 p.m. Monday. Station manager Don Guthrie found the mistake Tuesday morning while conducting a daily inventory. Fuel Mart and local fire officials have been trying to track down customers who bought the mixture.

The fire at Ms. Cervantez's house started at 6 a.m. Tuesday when a kerosene space heater was knocked over and fuel spilled out, igniting the floor, Mr. Braund said. Ms. Cervantez suffered first- and second-degree burns to her legs. Her son, Victor, 14, suffered second-degree burns to his ankles. They were treated at Blanchard Valley Regional Health Center.

The fire was contained to the dining room, where the space heater was, but smoke and heat extensively damaged the home. Their insurance company has provided Ms. Cervantez and her son with temporary housing.

Mr. Braund said Ms. Cervantez is “really shook up” and is not willing to talk about the fire.

Customers who bought the fuel are urged to return it to the station, which will replace it with pure kerosene. Mr. Guthrie said he has been deluged with phone calls. As of late yesterday most of the tainted kerosene had been returned “We don't know if it accounts for everything,'' said Mike Ports, president of Ports Petroleum, of Wooster, O., which operates 70 Fuel Marts in 12 states. “We're certainly hopeful.”

Asked whether the company plans to do anything to help Ms. Cervantez, Mr. Guthrie said he hadn't been contacted about the fire. He said the insurance company for the fuel carrier, Lewis Transport of Kentucky, is “actively pursuing all claims.''

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