Fire Service: Gasworks explosion caused by fuel spill exposed to heat

Font size: [A] [A] [A]

ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Fire Service has determined that the Gasworks explosion and fire in September was the result of a fuel spill that was exposed to a nearby heat source.

V.I. Fire Marshal Leon Battiste said Wednesday that the two investigators on the case found that one of the attendants at the family-owned gas station and convenience store, though they do not know which attendant, left fuel that was being transferred into one of three 10,000-gallon tanks unattended.

The four-page report, which was released about five months after the explosion, states that fuel overflowed and one of two heat sources likely ignited the first reaction.

The two sources in the vicinity of the spill included a mechanical pump that could have sparked and a heat vent coming from the kitchen area of the convenient store, Battiste said.

"They were about 20 feet from each other," he said, noting that the investigators could not conclude which source started the fire because of their proximity to each other.

Investigators put the pieces together since the Sept. 14 incident, primarily using the charred physical evidence that remained at the scene afterward and also using interviews of the two attendants and numerous eyewitnesses.

Some of the testimonies were not adding up during the investigation, according to V.I. Fire Service Assistant Director Darryl George, so the investigators continued to delay compiling a report.

In fact, Gasworks owner Jose Lima began reconstructing the station and store prior to the report's completion. Lima applied for a permit to rebuild almost immediately after the explosion occurred.

Reconstruction began about one month later, according to crews who were at the site in December.

The fire cost several entities millions of dollars, Battiste said, estimating that it consumed at least $2 million in property at Gasworks.

Several companies also had stored property in the vicinity of the building, including Island Energy, which owned a fuel truck that was destroyed in the explosion.

The explosion likely reached, if not surpassed, 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Battiste and could be seen for miles when it occurred at about 8:30 p.m.

Onlookers gawked from miles away at the tower of flames and smoke rising from the site.

Only two people were injured: an attendant at the station and someone who rushed to the scene to help her.

It is not yet known when the station and store will be fully operational again, though it is in the final stages of its restoration.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email

We welcome user discussion on our site, under the following guidelines:

To comment you must first create a profile and sign-in with a verified DISQUS account or social network ID. Sign up here.

Comments in violation of the rules will be denied, and repeat violators will be banned. Please help police the community by flagging offensive comments for our moderators to review. By posting a comment, you agree to our full terms and conditions. Click here to read terms and conditions.

Best of the VI

Best of the VI: After more than 100,000 text and Facebook votes were cast, it is time to unveil the winners.

Daily News E-Edition

Try our e-newspaper delivered to you every day

Island Trader

Good stuff, best buys, great fun

Crucian Trader

Celebrating St. Croix History, Culture and People

Island Action

Your complete guide to where to go and what to do this week in the Virgin Islands.