JENSEN, Uintah County — Fire officials continue to investigate the cause of a powerful explosion that damaged nearly two dozen businesses and four homes earlier this month.
The March 2 blast occurred at Adler Hot Oil shortly after midnight. It reduced the oilfield service company's shop to nothing more than a heap of twisted steel beams surrounded by shredded bits of insulation.
"We believe that there was a propane explosion," said Uintah County Fire District Executive Director Jeremy Raymond. "There is propane unaccounted for in some of the tanks."
Investigators still don't know whether the missing propane fueled the initial explosion or was consumed in the fire that burned for hours afterward, Raymond said. They're also still trying to identify a definite ignition source, he said.
"We've identified a few ignition sources in the building," said Raymond, who said a final report on the incident is expected Friday.
Tracy Honeycutt, general manager of Split Mountain Travel Plaza, said she initially thought her employees were playing a joke on her when they called to report that the truck stop — located a couple hundred yards north of Adler Hot Oil — had been severely damaged.
When she realized they weren't, she rushed home from Salt Lake City. What she saw left her in shock.
"It was devastating," Honeycutt said. "It was remarkable that no one got hurt because of the damage I was witnessing. The building was still smoldering. There was glass everywhere."
One of Honeycutt's employees complained of a headache immediately after the blast. Two other people who were inside a trucking company across the street from Adler Hot Oil escaped injury, Raymond said.
Matt Cazier, community development director for Uintah County, led a small team of building inspectors who surveyed the businesses and homes in the blast zone.
"It was pretty amazing the damage that it did and how widespread it was," Cazier said. "All 26 of the buildings that we looked at appeared to sustain some damage from the explosion. It ranged from a couple broken windows to (Adler Hot Oil) that was a complete loss."
Twenty-two of the buildings were commercial structures. Four were homes.
Nine of the commercial buildings and one of the homes were deemed unsafe to occupy until they are examined by an engineer and any required repairs are made. The cost of some of those repairs may exceed the cost of demolishing the building and starting over, Cazier said.
"It depends on what the engineers say," he said.
Split Mountain Travel Plaza was among those with heavy damage. Thousands of dollars of food had to be thrown away. Most of the store's ceiling and many of its exterior windows have to be replaced. The truck wash will have to be demolished and rebuilt.
But Honeycutt said she's simply grateful no one was injured or killed in the blast.Comment on this story
"We had so many people in this location Friday, had (the explosion) happened 12 hours earlier, it would have been catastrophic," she said.
She's also grateful for her employees, who have showed up every day since the explosion to clean up the store so it can open again.
"This isn't just a job. This is our family," Honeycutt said. "We are all here together rebuilding. We're rebuilding ourselves. We're rebuilding as a group of employees, and rebuilding the store."