Five Remain Critical After West Virginia Gas Explosion

Five people injured in a gas explosion that leveled convenience store remained in critical condition Wednesday, said state Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis.

Lewis had earlier said a fifth person died but he retracted that statement Wednesday afternoon.

A volunteer firefighter, a building inspector and two other people were killed in Tuesday's explosion, which occurred at Flat Top Little General Store in Ghent, a rural community about 70 miles southeast of Charleston.

Lewis said the atmosphere is safe and authorities don't believe there are any more victims.

Other victims were identified as Frederick Allen Burroughs, 51, Ghent; Craig Lawrence Dorsey, 24, McArthur; Glenn Ray Bennett, 44; and Jeffrey Lee Treadway, 21, both from Beckley.

Burgess and Dorsey were members of the Ghent Volunteer Fire Department, Treadway and Bennett were working on the propane tank.

The injured were identified as volunteer firefighter Donnie Caldwell, 71, of Cool Ridge; store manager Donna Meadows, 45, of Cool Ridge; Godfather's Pizza employees Joyce Walker, 63, of Odd and Leta Farley, 41, of Flat Top; and Little General employee Patricia Mullens, 37, of Flat Top.

The propane was used to heat the ovens at a Godfather's Pizza, which operated a franchise in the store. Lewis said he was not sure if the gas was used to heat the store.

A couple of days before the incident, the tank underwent maintenance, Lewis said.

The cause of the blast remains under investigation.

Nothing has been ruled out yet, said Kim O'Brien, spokeswoman for the state Fire Marshal's office.

Experts say it takes a minuscule amount of energy to touch off propane if the amount of gas present in the air is within its explosive range. Ken Cashdollar with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's disaster prevention branch in Pittsburgh compared it to the amount of static electricity a person would develop walking across a carpet.

Such charges build up more in dry, winter months.

"If it was in the middle of the summertime, at high humidity, you wouldn't be building up a static charge," Cashdollar said. "In the wintertime, you tend to get little sparks."