One critically injured man was fighting for his life Sunday while the cause of a fiery propane explosion at Atlas Castings & Technology remained under investigation. Utility crews worked throughout the day to restore power to the facility after the fire destroyed a power substation.
Charles McDonald, 64, was in critical condition at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, hospital officials said Sunday.
McDonald, a driver for IXL Transportation Services, was delivering propane to the Nalley Valley foundry Saturday when his 8,000-gallon truck exploded, shooting debris 150 feet in the air, emergency and company officials reported. Fire spread to two nearby storage tanks, 28,000 and 31,000 gallons in size, which were damaged in the explosion.
McDonald’s family declined media interviews through the hospital.
It remained unclear whether the fire started inside the facility or near the tanker.
“What’s clear is that there was a leak and it found an ignition source,” Assistant Fire Chief Dan Crotty said Sunday.
Firefighters got the smoldering remnants of the blaze knocked down Sunday morning, Crotty said, allowing inspectors to launch an investigation into the sequence of events leading up to the explosion that shook buildings and nerves for miles. Three others who were injured were treated and released Saturday.
“Right now, most of the product has vented off from the tanks,” Crotty said Sunday afternoon. “The gas company is in the process of capping off a natural gas line. The power company is here, trying to isolate the plant from the grid. Then we’ll be able to start our investigation.”
Fire investigators will start at the perimeter and methodically work their way in, piecing together what happened, he said. The inspection will likely take several days.
Meanwhile, inspectors with the state Department of Labor and Industries were also on the scene, conducting a separate investigation, Crotty said.
“This was a terrible accident,” said Mike Sullivan, safety director for IXL. “It’s a terrible tragedy for our company, and it will hurt our operations considerably.” The company has about 16 delivery tankers, he said.
Tacoma Power workers determined Sunday that the fire destroyed a power substation at the plant, the utility said in a statement. Crews expected to restore a small amount of power to the plant Sunday or today, but it was unclear how long it would take to restore enough power for the foundry to resume operations. Power was restored, however, to the remaining 150 customers who had been without electricity Sunday, spokeswoman Chris Gleason said.
A sealed-off perimeter remained around the Atlas site Sunday as crews evaluated how to remove the propane remaining in two large storage tanks, which still posed a potential hazard even though the contents were no longer under pressure.
The Highway 16 viaduct reopened to traffic early Sunday after being closed for 11 hours, Washington State Department of Transportation officials said.
Engineers examined the bridge deck and piers and declared them safe for the 131,000 drivers who cross the quarter-mile span each day, transportation officials said in a statement early Sunday.
According to fire radio traffic, emergency and company officials were reviewing security video of the incident. It was not publicly released.
Atlas officials could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Ian Demsky: 253-597-8872
By the numbers
1: Man in critical condition
8,000: Gallons of propane being delivered before explosion
150: Feet in the air that debris flew when a truck exploded
11: Hours that Highway 16 was closed
150: People who had electricity restored Sunday