19-year-old killed, firefighter injured in massive Clinton Township industrial fire

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (CBS DETROIT) - A massive industrial fire that sent debris flying in the air in Clinton Township was under control Tuesday.

Clinton Township Fire Chief Tim Duncan said a 19-year-old man died from injuries he sustained after being hit in the head by a piece of shrapnel.

A firefighter was taken to a hospital with minor injuries after a piece of debris went through a windshield and clipped the side of his face. The firefighter has been treated and released from the hospital.

Duncan said a fire caused the butane canisters to explode, but it will be a while before the cause of the fire is determined.

A massive industrial fire that sent debris flying in the air in Clinton Township was under control early Tuesday.   / Credit: Jesse Gonzales/CBS Detroit
A massive industrial fire that sent debris flying in the air in Clinton Township was under control early Tuesday. / Credit: Jesse Gonzales/CBS Detroit

At the height of the blaze, township police were urging residents to avoid the area of Groesbeck Highway and 15 Mile Road.

"We can not stress enough the danger that is happening right now. Please, please, please stay inside and out of the vicinity," township police said in a social media post. "Debris is being projected into the air and coming down as far as a mile away from the explosion, so please stay out of the area and stay safe."

CBS News Detroit's Luke Laster reported from the scene that the flames appeared to be dying down at about 11 p.m.

The Macomb County Sheriff's Office, which was assisting police, said evacuations were underway, but the fire department told CBS News shortly before 2 a.m. Tuesday that the fire was under control and there were no longer any evacuation orders in place. Air quality was monitored by the Macomb County HAZMAT team, and "all was clear upon testing," the department added.

Police said the building, formally a Save A Lot, housed Select Distributors, which fire officials described as a vaping materials supplier.

Duncan said the vacant building had large butane and nitrous oxide tanks stored inside that might have been the source of the blaze. Duncan said the building was a "total loss."

Two business owners were interviewed Monday night by the Clinton Township Fire Prevention Division and the ATF.

On Wednesday, March 13, a spokesperson with Select Distributors issued the following statement:

"Select Distributors is deeply saddened and expresses its sincerest condolences to the victim's family. It is actively cooperating with investigators as they work to determine the cause of the accident. Select Distributors has been a proud employer and member of this community for over a decade and is focused on ensuring safety and support of its team members and community."

Officials said Tuesday morning that the business owners pulled the permit as a storefront with a backroom for storage of products that they sold on the floor. At the time of inspection in 2022, there were no canisters in the building, and the owners passed inspection and obtained the certificate of occupancy strictly for retail use. Since that inspection, officials from the township have not been in the building.

The fire department told CBS News hundreds, if not thousands of canisters, mostly about 12 inches long, exploded and became projectiles.

Duncan said that the business had recently received a semi-load of butane containers and had pallets of nitrous as well as lighter fluid, more than 100,000 vape pens that contain lithium batteries and knives.

Paul Brouwer, Clinton Township's emergency management coordinator, warned the public that canisters that were ejected from the building might still contain a form of gas and that they should not be handled. Brouwer said that the drinking water and air quality were not impacted by the fire.

Residents are asked to call 586-469-5502 if they see debris, canisters or other objects that are concerning.

The Clinton Township Department of Public Services on Tuesday had collected 15 yards of debris as far out as two miles from the building and is working with the Michigan State Police Bomb Squad to collect and secure the canisters.

Several nearby businesses have been impacted by the fire as officials work to gather and secure any debris.

Belfour is securing the site with fencing, and police will be at the location monitoring.

Police said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was asked to help in the investigation since "the business operated as a novelty supply company known to stock combustible materials." The ATF confirmed Tuesday morning that ATF Certified Fire Investigators and accelerant detection K9s are assisting in determining the cause of the fire. The ATF anticipates that it will be assisting local law enforcement throughout the week.

At the height of the blaze, township police were urging residents to avoid the area of Groesbeck Highway and 15 Mile Road. / Credit: Jesse Gonzales/CBS Detroit
At the height of the blaze, township police were urging residents to avoid the area of Groesbeck Highway and 15 Mile Road. / Credit: Jesse Gonzales/CBS Detroit

David Storey, who lives near the scene with his fiance, told CBS News there was a lot of smoke and debris flying. They felt the shockwaves from repeated explosions and had to back up a couple of times because the air got so hot from the explosions. They said even firefighters had to take a step back when things were really picking up.

Sterling Heights police said at one point that their 911 phone lines were down due to the fire, but residents could call their front desk at 586-446-2801.

The Clinton Township Police Department was urging residents to avoid the area of Groesbeck Highway and 15 Mile Road because of the blaze. / Credit: Courtesy of Rick Osgood
The Clinton Township Police Department was urging residents to avoid the area of Groesbeck Highway and 15 Mile Road because of the blaze. / Credit: Courtesy of Rick Osgood

-- Brian Dakss contributed reporting.

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