Propane tank explosion singes bank's roof

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  Construction work on a downtown bank building nearly became demolition work after the contents of a small propane tank exploded on the building's roof shortly before noon on Tuesday. There were no injuries.
  The incident occurred at Elizabethton Federal Savings Bank on Sycamore Street while workers with Abingdon Roofing were using a propane tank to solder flashing along the building's roof.
  When workers attempted to turn off the tank a valve malfunctioned causing the tank's contents to explode, according to Elizabethton Fire Chief Michael Shouse.
  "They were about to break for lunch when a valve malfunctioned on the tank," Shouse said. "It began spewing out propane and ignited, sending a flame 10 to 15 feet in the air."
  The propane caught roofing materials on fire and forced workers to flee. Flames were visible on the roof for several moments after the explosion occurred.
  "All we could do was run because it was a full tank of propane," said Gilbert Kiser, who had attempted to turn off the tank when the fire occurred. "I tried to beat it out with my shirt, but it started shooting out flames at 20 feet."
  City firefighters scrambled to the roof as fire engines roared to the scene from the department's station 1 headquarters only two blocks away. Shouse said firefighters quelled the burning roofing materials with a dry chemical. He said neither the roof nor the building suffered structural damage as a result of the fire.
  "It started burning the rubber membrane on the roof," Shouse said. "No damage was found inside the building."
  The bank building was evacuated immediately after the fire broke out. City police diverted traffic along Sycamore Street until the fire crews doused the fire.
  The bank's senior vice-president Richard Barker said 15 employees were in the building when the fire occurred.
  "I didn't hear anything and I was standing almost right below it," Barker said.
   The department's ladder truck brought firefighters to the building's roof as a precautionary measure. Shouse said the fire's quick takedown was fortunate given the circumstances of the fire's cause.
  "This is one of those fires we are thankful we got to when we did," he said. "It could have burned through that membrane and had a real fire."
  The bank began undergoing a major renovation project in April with work to be completed early next year, Barker said. Despite some anxious moments, Barker seemed calm about the incident.
  "All's well that ends well," he said.