Wreck a reminder of deadly explosion

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By April Wright, Reporter

Almost a year to the day after a tragic propane tank explosion that killed two and injured three others at a laundromat in Fries, a chillingly similar accident occurred in Galax.

After a car struck the Fries tank on Dec. 10, 2007, leaking gas was ignited by spark from a clothes dryer. The result was a fireball that set a fire station ablaze and a shockwave that heavily damaged a building.

This time, thankfully, no one was injured.

The Galax Volunteer Fire Department responded to the Launderama on Roseland Road in West Galax on Dec. 13, 2008, at 11:35 a.m. Firefighters found that a vehicle driven by Ronald Handy had struck the liquid propane gas lines to the coin-operated laundry owned by Dan Rector.

“Apparently, Mr. Handy hit the gas pedal rather than the brake,” said Galax Fire Chief David Hankley. “He actually dead-centered the LP regulators where they enter the building, and the force of the impact broke several connections including the approximately 1.5-inch supply line coming from the large LP storage tank.”

Occupants of the business were evacuated and the gas line was shut off at the tank.

“Everyone is really fortunate that there was no fire or explosion, especially Mr. Handy,” Hankley said. “After he hit the pipes, he then tried to back away from it, which could have created an ignition point.”

Hankley was well aware that the Galax accident was within just a few days of the Fries explosion's anniversary. The tragedy prompted Galax and other communities to take a look at the placement of propane tanks and safety measures designed to protect them from vehicles.

The tanks in Fries had no barriers.

“We have made some significant improvements regarding propane safety in the city,” Hankley said. “However, there are still some areas that need to be addressed.”

Blue Ridge Propane responded to repair the leaks. Handy was treated at the scene by the Galax-Grayson EMS, and the Galax Police Department was called to investigate the accident.

This incident was one of three calls the Galax Volunteer Fire Department responded to last weekend:

• Firefighters responded to the manufacturing facility of BOSS Lumber — the former E.C. Dodson plant of Vaughan Furniture — on Meadow Street in Galax on Dec. 13 at 3:55 p.m.

“Residents heard a loud explosion and then saw smoke coming from the rear of the plant area,” said GVFD Capt. Aaron Criner. “We searched the plant but could not find a source, however the power was out in some areas.

“We discovered that a large transformer had failed and that was the source of the explosion.”

• On Dec. 14, firefighters responded to a single-family residential house fire at 404 Grant St. at 12:45 p.m., where the department found significant smoke coming from the house. Upon entry, firefighters found the fire at the electric range in the kitchen.

“Apparently, they had been cooking and it got a little out of control,” said Rickey Walker, assistant chief of the department. “There were four people in the house at the time. However the unattended pan got away from them.”

The home is owned by Wayne Edmonds and Devita Willis.

There was enough damage from the fire and smoke that it prevented the family from staying there. The local Woods River Chapter of American Red Cross provided temporary housing for them.