Published on November 1, 2019.

Gas Blast

A fatal explosion in a recently renovated building rocks a small Maine town 


When maintenance supervisor Larry Lord entered the basement of the building where he worked in the small town of Farmington, Maine, on the morning of September 16, he smelled gas. Knowing such an odor could indicate a leak in the building’s on-site propane tank, the 60-year-old immediately went upstairs and told the other occupants they needed to evacuate. Firefighters responded, and as they and Lord were inspecting the property, an explosion occurred.

Pictured here, the blast leveled the building—a recently renovated, two-story structure that housed offices for an organization that provides services to people with disabilities—and left a blanket of debris across the site. Veteran Farmington Fire Captain Michael Bell, 68, was killed instantly. Seven people were hurt, including Lord and several others who sustained life-threatening injuries. As of late September, three of the men, including Lord, remained hospitalized in conditions ranging from fair to critical.

The blast was so strong that it could be heard for miles and inflicted serious damage to nearby properties, displacing 30 people.

According to the Portland Press Herald, investigators said the blast was caused by a leak in a propane line running from an underground storage tank into the building’s heating system, located in the basement. “Although the cause of the leak is still undetermined, officials said the tank had been filled with nearly 400 gallons of propane on Friday, Sept. 13, but was nearly empty Monday morning, before the explosion,” the paper reported.

A new Fire Protection Research Foundation project is underway to study gas detection technologies, work that will influence the creation of a new NFPA standard on the same subject. Read more about the project here.

ANGELO VERZONI is a staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top photograph: Getty Images