Michigan residents urged not to pick up debris from explosive vaping supplies fire that killed 1

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Authorities investigating a fire and explosions that rocked a suburban Detroit building filled with vaping industry supplies, killing one man as gas canisters soared up to 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) away, urged residents Friday not to pick up any debris because they still pose potential hazards.

The renewed warning about debris came as officials said their investigation into Monday night's fire isn't expected to begin in earnest until next week because the gutted building is filled with fallen steel beams that first need to be removed with heavy machinery.

Clinton Township Fire Chief Tim Duncan said debris is still smoldering inside the ruins but fire officials hope weekend rain will douse those areas so removal of the steel beams can begin next week.

“Obviously heavy equipment is going to have to get in there and start picking that apart so we can get to the bottom of what’s going on there during the investigation," he said at a news briefing.

Duncan said more than 2 million gallons (7.57 million liters) of water has been poured on the building since Monday and fire crews have been on the scene continuously since Monday night.

Officials said a 19-year-old man was killed when he was struck by a flying gas cannister about a quarter of a mile (0.40 kilometers) from the building as ignited cannisters were rocketing away from the fire.

Duncan said Tuesday the gutted building had housed a distributor for the vaping industry called Goo, which had more than 100,000 vape pens stored on-site. Duncan said a truckload of butane canisters had arrived within the past week at the building and more than half of that stock was still there when the fire began.

Goo had received a township occupancy permit in September 2022 for the 26,700-square-foot (2,480-square-meter) building as a retail location for a “smoke shop/vape store” that would sell paraphernalia for vape products, Barry Miller, superintendent for Clinton Township’s Building Department, has said.

But while Goo had asked about getting zoning approval for using the building for warehousing and distribution, Miller said Tuesday that the township’s planning department told the company local zoning only allowed for retail.

Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon said he has spoken with Macomb County Prosecutor Peter J. Lucido and said his office's “major crimes unit is ready to work with our police department when it comes time."

“We will find out through our investigation what happened, who did it, who’s responsible and somebody will be held accountable," Cannon said Friday.

Clinton Township Fire Marshal Chuck Champagne said a team of fire investigators was still being assembled that will include members of the township’s fire and police departments, Michigan State Police, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and private investigators.

Cannon and other officials urged residents not to pick up cannisters and other fire debris, with Cannon saying he's seen “people out there picking things up and taking them home as souvenirs.”

“Please don’t do that, it’s very, very dangerous,” he said.

Mary Bednar, Clinton Township's director of public services, said staff from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have started collecting potential hazardous fire debris, including vape pens and lithium batteries, and are working to assess debris in the neighborhoods and areas around the site.

Cannon said the EPA was expected to have about 20 people working to remove debris from neighborhoods and other areas in the days ahead.