Compressed air explosion damages west Olympia store

OlympianOctober 15, 2013 

People who live and work in the area of Capital Divers at Harrison and Decatur are very lucky they weren't hurt when a compressed air tank stored outside the business exploded about 12:40 p.m. Tuesday, sending shrapnel flying as far as 50 yards into the neighborhood, Olympia Deputy Fire Chief Greg Wright said.

"There's a lot of potential for injury and we're just really relieved," Wright said.

The compressed air tanks are made of metal, and carry 3,000 pounds per square inch of air to fill scuba tanks used by sea divers. Wright said Tuesday afternoon it is too early to tell what caused the explosion. Whether the tanks were old, or under too much pressure are two possibilities, he added.

The explosion blew a large hole in the back of Capital Divers. An owner was inside the business at the time, but he was unhurt, Wright said. The explosion ruptured several other air tanks that were stacked up against the back of the building, he added. There was a slight danger that other tanks could explode, so firefighters and police had the area blocked off by yellow crime scene tape Tuesday afternoon.

Harrison Avenue near Decatur Street in Olympia was completely blocked to traffic after emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene by numerous 911 calls about 12:40 p.m. Responding firefighters were fearful that the explosion could have been a gas leak, which would have been a much more dangerous situation, Wright said.  Harrison was reopened to traffic about an hour after the explosion.

Neighbors of Capital Divers came outside, several complaining of ringing ears or headaches after the loud boom. Small pieces of metal and wood flew hundreds of feet through the air and lay everywhere on the ground. The debris was a frightening reminder of the tragedy that could have struck anyone walking through the area at the time of the explosion.

"I was just sitting at my computer when I heard a loud cracking sound," Natalie Rynne, 16, said. "The house shook a bit when I heard it."

KaSandra Cochran, who works with Catholic Charities' office on Decatur Street, said the explosion blew paperwork off her desk. Added Catholic Charities employee Theresa Carrillo: "It was so loud, I didn't know if I should hit the deck."

Amber Kennedy, who lives in a house directly behind Capital Divers, said the blast shook the walls, knocking a mirror and artwork off her walls. She added that the blast also broke a water pipe inside the home.

The state Department of Labor and Industries will not investigate the explosion, an L&I spokeswoman said Tuesday afternoon. The L&I spokeswoman said Capital Divers is an owner-operated business and has no employees, so L&I has no jurisdiction. Wright said Tuesday that the fire department also will not investigate the explosion further, because there were no injuries.

Wayne Fowler, owner of Capital Divers, was clearing debris from Decatur Street Tuesday afternoon. Fowler said Tuesday that the air tanks outside his business "were properly stored." He said he believes the insurance company would investigate. He declined further comment.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445 jpawloski@theolympian.com

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445 jpawloski@theolympian.com

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