A wreath hangs from a chain-link fence surrounding the almost-vacant site of the LEAP building that exploded Sept. 16, 2019, in Farmington. Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal

FARMINGTON — The State Fire Marshal’s Office said Friday that no criminal charges are expected in connection with the deadly explosion that destroyed the LEAP office building in September.

The office confirmed that the explosion occurred days after an underground propane line was severed when a post was drilled into the ground near the building, according to a statement released by Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Ten-foot posts were installed in the LEAP parking lot to protect an outside air conditioning unit Sept. 10. Investigators said the post cut open the yellow propane line. Maine Department of Public Safety photo

Investigators concluded that propane leaked from the severed line and fueled the explosion that leveled the LEAP building, according to the statement.

But investigators said they could not determine what sparked the explosion. Several sources of ignition are possible, including disruption of electricity, a light switch, a furnace or static electricity, according to the statement.

Farmington Fire Rescue Capt. Michael Bell, 68, a 30-year veteran of the department, died in the explosion, which also seriously or critically injured six other firefighters and LEAP maintenance supervisor Larry Lord.

Fire investigators said the bollard work was done by Techno Metal Posts of Manchester. The 10-foot-long posts were drilled into the ground about 5 feet from the building, and each was sunk about 7 feet, leaving 3 feet above ground, according to McCausland’s statement.

The posts were installed to protect an outside air conditioning unit next to the building. The propane line was buried about 2½ to 3 feet under the parking lot and connected the propane tank behind the property to the building through the basement wall at the rear corner.

Ten-foot posts were installed in the LEAP parking lot to protect an outside air conditioning unit Sept. 10. Investigators said the post cut open a propane line. Maine Department of Public Safety photo

The parking lot had been paved after installation of the propane line last summer. The metal bollards are about 4 inches thick, but each had an auger head 10½ inches wide that allows the post to be drilled into the ground. It was the auger head that severed the propane line encased in a plastic protective sleeve.

The posts were installed Sept. 10, and the explosion occurred Sept. 16.

On Sept. 13, Lord discovered that the 500-gallon propane tank was empty. The propane supplier to the building – C.N. Brown – was called, and the tank was filled just after noon that day, according to the statement.

The next Monday morning, a maintenance worker felt dizzy after being in the building a short time. He and Lord discovered that the propane tank was empty again. Lord called the fire department, opened windows and doors, and told the staff to leave. The fire department arrived at 8:13 a.m. and joined Lord in the basement looking for the source of the propane leak while some firefighters made sure the building was vacant.

The building exploded at 8:28 a.m.

“It is a tragic situation all the way around. We’re all very sad to see what happened. It appears to be a situation that no one could have foreseen,” Town Manager Richard Davis said Friday. “I stand behind the Farmington Fire Rescue Department. It is a group of highly trained professional first responders who do their job bravely every day. My heart goes out to the families of Capt. Bell and Larry Lord. I hope they continue to heal and move on from this tragic accident.”

Fire investigators say no criminal charges are anticipated, according to McCausland.

“Certainly everyone has been waiting with anticipation for some of the specifics about the explosion, but none more than the firefighters who, as they do every day, put their lives at risk when they responded to the building that day. And, as we know, one of those brave firefighters paid the ultimate price,” Augusta attorney Walter McKee, who represents Capt. Bell’s family and other firefighters, said in an email Friday. “They are all looking forward to seeing the full report when it comes out so they can make some sense of how this terrible tragedy happened, and most importantly what can be done so that it never ever happens again.”

Lord, who remains hospitalized in Boston, and his family are being represented by Berman & Simmons in Lewiston.

“On behalf of the Lord family we want to thank the officials who continue to work diligently to assemble what we expect will be a thorough and revealing report,” according to a statement from attorney Steve Silin. “We are looking forward to the release of the Fire Marshal’s full conclusions, which we expect will confirm what we already understand about the nature and sequence of the compounding errors that led to this explosion and resulted in Mr. Lord’s grievous injuries.”

A damage prevention investigator for the Maine PUC cited Techno Post and owner Michael Brochu on Dec. 23 for probable violations of “excavator failure to properly notify Dig Safe” and the “excavator failed to properly premark area of proposed excavation,” according to the PUC notice. Investigator Barry Truman recommended a penalty of $500 for each violation.

LEAP’s attorney, Erin Murphy in Waterville, said Friday “we have no comment at this time.”

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