Smith County Fire Marshal's Office says cause of fire and explosion at Tyler Welders Supply undetermined

Published on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 08:34 - Written by LOUANNA CAMPBELL, lcampbell@tylerpaper.com

The exact cause of a fire that rocked the Tyler Welders Supply on June 13 is undetermined.

Smith County Fire Marshal Connie McCoy-Wasson said the fire appears to be accidental in nature. No foul play is suspected and no criminal charges will be filed, Mrs. McCoy-Wasson said, according to a news release.

The findings were released Monday after the Smith County Fire Marshal’s Office completed its on-site investigation into the cause of the explosion and subsequent fire that rocked the business in the 3500 block of U.S. Highway 271 near the intersection with County Road 279.

The fire marshal’s office released the scene back to the company and Tyler Welders Supply will begin a private investigation into what started the fire, according to the news release.

Clean up crews contracted through Praxair Inc. were in the residential neighborhood on Montgomery Gardens Monday picking up pieces of exploded acetylene canisters and other hazards caused by the multiple explosions and large fire at the business. It is not known what has been found up to this point.

A Praxair spokesperson said a qualified contractor is handling the neighborhood cleanup effort and it has gone very well. Crews are working around residents’ schedules and Praxair expects the cleanup to be completed by the end of the week.

A preliminary investigation last week indicated the cause of the fire was likely accidental, but investigators were not able to conduct an investigation at the scene of the fire because the site continued to smolder for days and remained unsafe for crews to access. The fire happened in the acetylene storage area behind the retail store.

The smoldering pile of metal and acetylene canisters was left to burn off and cool so fire inspectors could safely get to the site and begin determining the exact cause of the fire. Smith County Emergency Service District No. 2 provided firefighters to monitor the area through the weekend.

On Thursday, the fire marshal’s office said the preliminary cause of the fire and explosions was accidental.

Tyler Welders Supply and Praxair representatives have been monitoring the site since the flames subsided and gases burned off. Small puffs of smoke could still be seen coming from exploded acetylene canisters, according to officials as late as Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday, Mrs. McCoy-Wasson said they were waiting for the area to be safe so they can do their investigation. She said she anticipated her office being able to start the investigation at the site on Friday morning.

That changed Thursday evening when a news release from the office said the fire marshal’s office would not be able to safely approach the pile of metal, burned out cars and hundreds of exploded acetylene canisters until Monday.

The Office of Safety and Health Administration inspected the site on Thursday, according to an OSHA spokesman. The report has not been made available to the public on the Department of Labor OSHA Integrated Management Information System website.

A Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokeswoman said agency representatives conducted a site visit Wednesday to determine if there were any environmental concerns. The fire department allowed the fire to burn out and water was not used to suppress the fire, she said.

TCEQ determined there were no emissions of concern because the acetylene burned clean. There were not any environmental concerns reported during the site visit, according to TCEQ officials.

A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokeswoman said the ATF was not currently participating in the investigation at Tyler Welders Supply. ATF will respond to assist state and local authorities if their assistance is requested, she said.

According to the Smith County Fire Marshal’s office, 15 to 20 houses were affected by the fire. One home was completely destroyed causing a family of four to be displaced. There are unconfirmed reports of other homes with broken windows.

Phone calls to Tyler Welders Supply CEO Ronnie Ruyle have gone unanswered.

TWITTER: @LouAnnCampbell