Explosion burns man at Vancouver bag factory

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

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A man was sent to an area hospital with second-degree burns on his arms after being engulfed in a fireball at a Vancouver business late Wednesday, officials said.

Firefighters responded to a reported explosion at 11:55 p.m. at 1401 W. Fourth Plain Boulevard at the Bemis Company, said Kevin Stromberg, a fire department spokesman.

Firefighters learned a male worker had been refilling his forklift with propane. After the man vented the propane tank to make sure it was full -- the same procedure used with propane tanks for home grills -- he started the forklift, Stromberg said. Gas vapors in the air ignited, causing the fireball.

The man had second-degree burns on both arms and was transported to a local hospital, Stromberg said.

The man’s name was not released.

Barbara Wielenbeck lives in the area. She said the explosion shook her house and woke her up.

“Yeah, it scared the you-know-what out of us,” she said.

At first, she thought someone hit her car or that nearby trains might have collided, she said. When she saw firefighters, she knew it must have been something related to the propane filling station, she said.

A Vancouver Fire marshal is investigating.