An explosion that injured six people and damaged 16 apartments at a Mesa complex was accidental, likely caused by leaking propane tanks, fire investigators said Monday.
Justin Kulbeth was storing two propane tanks in his apartment at Broadway Gardens, 945 W. Broadway Road, when one of them exploded Aug. 31, said Mary Cameli, Mesa fire deputy chief.
What ignited the tanks is still not known, but investigators have ruled out illegal activity as a cause for the blast, Cameli said.
The explosion rocked the 270-apartment complex at about 4:15 p.m. on a Sunday. Chaos followed in the aftermath as firefighters evacuated residents and cared for the injured. Eight apartments near Kulbeth’s were destroyed.
Two days before the fire, Kulbeth carried the two tanks into his apartment. They had not been used for about 11 years and were taken from a 1949 travel trailer Kulbeth recently received as a gift, Cameli said.
Investigators believe propane from one of the tanks leaked, filling the apartment and a space above its ceiling with gas.
Once the gas condensed to a flammable level, the ignition — which could have come from anything from a lighted cigarette to a running appliance — was instantaneous. The blast was "massive" and could have caused more damage than it did, Cameli said.
"We are very fortunate no one was killed in this explosion," Cameli said. Always store propane outside in a vented and shaded area, she said, never indoors or inside a storage room.