Deadly explosions at a Detroit-area retail vape shop sent canisters and switch blades caught in the fire through air

Authorities believe the Michigan vaping supplies distributor that went up in flames Monday night in Clinton Township was illegally storing canisters of butane and other materials, township officials said Tuesday.

A 19-year-old man was killed by flying debris and a firefighter was injured as explosions took place, officials said.

Clinton Township Supervisor Robert Cannon said the business was not permitted to have the canisters of butane, which is highly flammable.

“They were illegally in that building,” Cannon told reporters at a news conference Tuesday evening.

In a news release on the township website, officials said: “According to the (fire department), stored in the facility, among other items, were containers of butane, nitrous oxide, lighter fluid, and vape pens. Containers, or canisters, were 12 to 18 inches in size, weighing 10 to 15 pounds.”

Authorities continue to investigate what materials were stored on site and in what quantities, Clinton Township Fire Chief Tim Duncan said.

The shop, identified as Goo LLC, was permitted to operate as a retail mercantile business with some storage in a former supermarket location, property records and authorities confirm.

But in the past week, the retailer – which authorities estimate to have been storing more than 100,000 vape pens – had received a truckload of butane and still had over half of that left, in addition to nitrous oxide, propane and other products, Duncan said at an earlier news conference.

When Goo received its permit, it was designated as a storefront with a back room to store retail products, Barry Miller, Clinton Township building superintendent, told reporters earlier.

CNN has reached out to one of the known business owners of Goo to seek comment.

Clinton Township Emergency Management Coordinator Paul Brouwer said the owners have been cooperative and forthright so far.

The business was closed but employees were on site fulfilling online orders when the incident began, authorities said.

The fire is under control but there are still some debris piles that are smoking with occasional canisters exploding, Brouwer said. The township is under a state of emergency, he added.

Business was inspected in 2022

Clinton Township building authorities inspected Goo in September of 2022 and while they were aware of vape pens, they found no canisters, Miller said.

“Without those tanks we don’t have this issue, so that’s really the core of it,” the fire chief said.

There is an allowable quantity of canisters the shop could have stored.

“Obviously with what happened last night, they (Goo) were well over what would have been allowable for that site,” Miller said.

In addition to canisters, butane and lithium batteries, switch blades and knives that had flown through the air during the explosions were found, Duncan said.

Police and the ATF interviewed two business owners Monday night, authorities said.

It’s hard to estimate how much product was inside the building that shouldn’t have been, Cannon said, because a lot of it blew up and is now strewn around the township. Officials said there was debris as far as 2 miles away.

Duncan was 7 to 8 miles from the scene when he got the call about the blaze, the fire chief said. The explosions at the scene were so intense they could be heard from that distance – and shook his vehicle as he approached the scene, he added.

Flames lit up the sky as the inferno released massive plumes of smoke and showers of embers into the air, while bright flashes occasionally burst through the blaze, footage from CNN affiliate WXYZ shows.

Authorities worked through the night and early morning Tuesday, where fire could still be seen smoldering, clearing debris from the roadways and area parking lots, police said.

“You’ll see … some of these products where the actual top is blown off and the canister went up like a missile. And then you have other ones that blew up in place and then came over. So you’re seeing a variety of full canisters and then ones that are totally blown apart and basically shrapnel going through the air,” Duncan said.

19-year-old killed was a quarter-mile away

The 19-year-old man who died has not been named but he was a Clinton Township resident, officials said. He was around a quarter of a mile from the fire when he was struck on the head, Duncan said. He was pronounced dead at around 4 a.m., the chief said. Investigators are still working to determine the exact cause of death.

A firefighter was injured from flying glass shrapnel but is expected to recover, the chief said.

The inferno broke out near 15 Mile Road and Groesbeck Highway, police said. The large intersection includes a gas station, hardware store and a building belonging to an automotive supplies manufacturer.

At least three ladder trucks with Snorkel apparatus, platforms at the end of ladders with fire hose nozzles, were pouring water on the blaze as more firefighters wielded hoses and other gear on the ground, aerial footage from CNN affiliates WDIV and WXYZ shows.

“As firefighters, your first thought is, you see fire, you want to go put it out,” he said. “They (firefighters) were trying to approach it and obviously with the explosions, there was absolutely no way that we could do that.”

Duncan said Tuesday morning there was no danger to the community, no drinking water issues or air quality concerns after a hazmat team assessed the zone, but urged residents to stay clear of the area as authorities investigate further.

“We’ll give it some additional time to see if we have any more explosions,” Duncan said. “We’re going to probably bring a piece of apparatus over here to help with some of the additional suppression on it … involve the ATF … and then once we get that clear, we’ll get our people on site and start digging through.”

“It’s still too unstable, too unsafe for our people to get over on the scene, so we’re probably gonna have to bring another engine over here to suppress the smoke and stuff going on, so obviously safety is crucial for our people,” he said.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Steve Almasy, Paul P. Murphy, Nic F. Anderson and Amanda Jackson contributed to this alert

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