Rainier, WA- SCOTT GUTIERREZ, THE OLYMPIAN – A Rainier man died early Wednesday in a Seattle hospital after he was badly burned in an explosion and fire in his camper.
Max Walker, 65, was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle late Tuesday after he was pulled from his burning camper at 104 Alpine Court S.E., officials said.
The camper burst into flames about 9:25 p.m. Investigators think fumes from a leaky propane tank that was being used to fuel a heater caused the explosion, said Rita Hutcheson, fire chief for Southeast Thurston County Fire and EMS.
“It appears he may have been trying to switch the bottles and he didn’t get it tight enough or something,” she said. “It was an incredible explosion. It blew off the top and the sides out.”
The blaze was one of four fires reported Tuesday in Thurston County. Fire crews in Lacey and Olympia battled three fires at separate locations between 2 and 4:30 p.m. There were no serious injuries in those fires.
Walker initially survived the explosion, and neighbors heard him calling for help. William Thorson, who owns the lot where the camper stood, said the red blaze stood out in the foggy night sky, and he ran out to hear Walker yelling. He worked with another neighbor and a Tenino police officer to pull Walker away from the flames.
“I had to put the fire out on his pants,” Thorson said. “He was burnt awful bad.” Walker remained conscious at the scene, Hutcheson said.
“This was one of the worst I’ve seen in the 24 years I’ve been doing this,” she said.
Walker had just reattached a 5-gallon propane tank to a small heater. The fumes exploded when Walker tried to light the heater, officials said.
A storage trailer parked beside the camper contained several antiques belonging to Thorson and it also was damaged, Thorson said.
Walker had lived on the property for about 2 1/2 years.
Tenino-Rainier police Chief Lee White said the fire burned rapidly.
“It was very quick. One big flash,” he said. “It got very hot because of the propellant of the propane.”