Explosion ruled an accident by officials

Friday, October 13, 2006

A propane tank explosion resulting in the death of a Fillmore man this week was determined to be accidental.

According to Fillmore Town Marshal Tom Helmer, Richard L. Stewart, 73, was removing metal from two grill size propane tanks in his divided two-car garage on Putnam Street Thursday when one tank exploded. Stewart was working in the garage, which was heated by a wood stove.

Helmer said that Stewart had removed both caps from the tanks, but there must have been enough fuel left to cause one to ignite.

Fillmore Fire Chief Mike Davies said that Stewart was recycling metal and was attempting to remove a brass insert on the tanks.

He also said that Stewart was working extremely close to the wood stove with the lid open.

Helmer said it was undetermined whether it was a spark from the stove or a spark from Stewart as he worked that ignited the vapors. But Helmer said after talking with emergency crews on the scene, the cause was determined to be accidental.

Stewart's son advised Helmer that he was backing up a pick-up truck in the driveway when he noticed the garage was full of smoke and heard his mother screaming that his father was inside.

Stewart suffered second and third degree burns on more than 90 percent of his body.

"He was severely burned from head to toe," Davies said.

Helmer said that Stewart was conscious inside the ambulance prior to being transported via LifeLine helicopter to Wishard Memorial Hospital in Indianapolis.

The Marion County coroner's office reported that Stewart later died at the hospital from his injuries.

According to Helmer, the garage did not sustain any damage and the area smelled like propane two hours after the incident.

Funeral arrangements for Stewart are still pending.

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