Rebuilding of Gasworks under way as investigation continues


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ST. THOMAS - Gasworks, an independently owned gas station in Bovoni, is on its way to reopening after it was destroyed in an explosion in September.

The V.I. Fire Service has not yet determined the cause of the explosion, which burned for four hours the evening of Sept. 14. Onlookers could see a tower of flames and smoke for miles immediately after the explosion, and all emergency services were dispatched to the incident at the time.

Fire Service investigators said that there are two possible causes, though they are not yet saying what those causes are, Fire Service Assistant Director Daryl George said. Neither possibility implies that the cause was the result of criminal intent, George said.

Investigators expect to determine the cause before the end of December, he said. With that, they also should know the estimated value of what was lost.

"My guys are on it," George said.

The investigation has taken longer than expected because the investigators have been taking leave during the investigation and because they have had "issues" with some of the witnesses, George said. He did not say what those issues are.

However, investigators already collected physical evidence from the scene, which they finished doing within a month of the incident. George said as a result of the rapid evidence-gathering, he had expected a more prompt closure of the investigation.

The Fire Service was able to turn the building back over to the business owner, Jose Lima, after it concluded its collection of physical evidence. Lima attempted to begin rebuilding the gas station immediately after the incident - within a week - though he was required to obtain permits from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources before work began, according to Niger Jean-Baptiste, secretary for Justin Brothers.

Justin Brothers, a St. Thomas-based construction company, has done the bulk of the work on Gasworks, hauling out the old material, and bringing in the new, Jean-Baptiste said. Justin Brothers focuses primarily on the steel work while other crews have done some of the other jobs.

"We started work about three weeks after the fire," Jean-Baptiste said.

Lima could not be reached for comment.

Construction crews last week worked at the property, where the building's charred remnants once stood. The crews already have put new roofing and walls in place.

They estimated that they would complete their work in a few weeks.

Crews hauled away much of the old material already, and they took one of the gas tanks away Friday. The tank was busted open on one side with the edges of the opening curling out, evidence that it had melted during the explosion or the fire that continued in the aftermath.

In initial reports, George said that the explosion had originated from one of the gas tanks.

During the fire, firefighters used dry chemicals to extinguish the flames and smoke, but they used water to cool the other tanks, so as to prevent them from also exploding.

Since the explosion, investigators have been investigating the incident, starting by taking photographs of the scene, sifting through the remnants and interviewing witnesses.

All that needs to be done at this point, George said, is putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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