An Idaho man who received significant burns in a propane explosion in the Helena Valley Tuesday has been airlifted to Seattle, according to authorities.
Lewis & Clark County Undersheriff Jason Grimmis said the man had burns over about 45 percent of his body. He was initially taken to St. Peter’s Hospital before being airlifted.
Firefighters responded to the reported explosion in the 3600 block of York Road around 10 a.m.
They said the man, a contractor from Boise, was working on a truck with a 3,000-gallon propane tank when something ignited.
“Thankfully, nobody was standing next to it other than the gentleman, and God willing, he’s okay,” said East Valley fire chief Dave Sammons.
The blast and subsequent fire also destroyed a shop building next to the truck. That created flames and a column of smoke that could be seen miles away.
Witnesses reported hearing and feeling the blast as far away as Walmart and the York Bridge.
“I heard this enormous boom shake the house,” said Rick Gulan. “I thought it was an earthquake, but it wasn’t prolonged, so I thought something wasn’t right. I came outside, started looking around and saw the huge pile of flames and smoke over there just billowing up.”
Sammons said the propane tank was about three-quarters full. That meant firefighters weren’t able to immediately attack the fire, because of safety concerns about the remaining gas.
“We backed all of our guys off and started doing an evacuation in the surrounding area,” he said. “The fire pretty much vented itself, burned itself out to where we could get into it and start putting water on it.”
Sammons said Tuesday they wouldn’t be able to determine exactly what sparked the explosion until they had more time to investigate around the truck.
Authorities said the property where the explosion happened includes a private home and a business. Sammons said propane tanks are often serviced there.