The explosion in Oliver Springs on Sunday that rattled windows and shook homes as far away as Oak Ridge was caused by gasoline poured on what was left of a barn that had been leveled and then ignited, the fire chief said Friday.
Oliver Springs Fire Chief Justin Bailey said firefighters don’t know for sure how much gasoline was used, but the property owner had at least a five-gallon gas can.
There was still a strong odor of gasoline when emergency responders arrived, Bailey said.
The explosion was reported on Tri County Boulevard at Mahoney Road on Sunday evening, just before it got dark, in a field across from Lee’s Market in south Oliver Springs, just down the hill from Oak Ridge.
The property owner had leveled the barn, and only natural wood remained, Bailey said. The property owner was allowed to burn the untreated wood with a permit, and he had received a burn permit from City Hall over the phone.
The property owner had piled the wood into a basement under the barn, and poured gas into it. It’s not clear how much gas was used, whether five gallons or more, and how long it sat before it was ignited.
But when the gasoline and wooden debris or brush were lit, the gas burned and caused an explosion, Bailey said.
The explosive force knocked the property owner and his juvenile son to the ground, Bailey said. But they reported no injuries.
The explosion did not move the debris pile, Bailey said, and it all stayed within the basement.
Firefighters were able to extinguish the flames with less than 1,000 gallons of water, Bailey said, and there were four small spot fires.
Accelerants can be used to start fires, but they have to be certain types of fuels under Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation regulations, Bailey said. He said the Oliver Springs Fire Department uses kerosene or diesel during its brush fire operations.
Gasoline is not recommended.
It’s possible that the basement contained the gasoline vapors. The explosion in the basement couldn’t expand horizontally, and the outward force went up, Bailey said.
There have been online comments that a propane tank exploded as well, but Bailey said firefighters did not find a propane tank or anything else.
One reader told Oak Ridge Today this week that she thought her house in Oak Ridge had been hit by a car when she heard the explosion. Bailey said he lives about a mile away from the explosion, and he also wondered if something had happened to his house when he heard it.
Oak Ridge readers reported hearing the explosion across a section of north Oak Ridge, from the west end of the city, near Louisiana Avenue, over to Wellington Circle and even farther east to the area near Cedar Hill Park.
Oliver Springs dispatchers were overwhelmed with calls after the explosion, Bailey said.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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