A fiery explosion late Sunday night has left a local man in Vancouver General Hospital’s intensive-care burn unit.
Tuesday morning there was reportedly no change in Randie Walker’s condition after he suffered first, second and third-degree burns to 60 per cent of his body in a blaze on a property at Main Street and Highway 3 in this small community southwest of Penticton.
Walker was living in a motorhome that was one of about a half-dozen vehicles destroyed in the fire at that location. He was initially taken to Penticton Regional Hospital by B.C. Ambulance and later airlifted to Vancouver.
His older brother Robbie Kilborn, who was living in a nearby house, also was injured. He received minor burns as he attempted put the fire out.
“I tried to fight the flames with a garden hose, but when a nearby propane tank caught fire, it was like a blowtorch,” said Kilborn who was awakened by the first explosion. “There was nothing we could do to stop it, it went up so fast.”
At the time of the call, just before midnight, members of the Keremeos Volunteer Fire Department were still on scene at a brush fire at Hwy. 3 and Barcelo Road in Cawston, about 15 kilometres away.
“It probably took us about 10 or 15 minutes to get there and when we arrived there were some big flames shooting about 40 feet in the air and two big pine trees in the middle of it and there were sparks and embers showering all the neighbouring houses,” said Keremeos fire chief Jordy Bosscha. “Fortunately the wind was blowing away from the house but with the other trees on Main Street, if this had been August we would have been in for a real doozy.”
Walker had been taken to hospital by then although there were a number of his family members standing nearby. The first large propane explosion the chief was aware of happened about five minutes following his arrival and there were real concerns of additional ones.
“With propane containers you just never know what’s going to happen with them,” said Bosscha. “They’re just supposed to vent off and the valve is supposed to melt and that’s to keep it from exploding but sometimes that doesn’t always work.”
He added a venting propane tank makes a loud roaring sound accompanied by flames shooting out from the cylinder vertically or horizontally.
“The other thing is if you have a number of propane tanks together and one of them is venting, doing what it is supposed to do but it’s right on top or beside another one, that extra heat weakens the metal and if it doesn’t vent quickly enough then it goes boom and there’s stuff flying everywhere,” said the chief. “What you have do is make sure to keep them (propane tanks) as cool as possible with water.”
The first alarm was called in as a single-vehicle fire. However, according to Kilborn, the wind quickly came up and the flames spread to the canopy of a nearby truck.
Along with the motorhome, four trucks and a van were destroyed.
Bosscha said the investigation into the exact cause of the fire is continuing and will include an interview with Walker when possible.
At this point. he does not expect police will be involved.
-With files from Steve Arstad/Black Press