MICHIGAN CITY — One man was injured Thursday morning after an explosion rocked a car repair business at Longwood Drive and U.S. 20.
The owner of Lakeside Autowerks was welding in the back of the building at 628 Longwood Drive when a nearby 50-gallon oil drum somehow ignited and exploded, according to Michigan City Fire Department Public Information Officer Tony Drzewiecki.
The man suffered burns on his hands and arms and was transported to Franciscan Health Michigan City. According to Mike Lusco, of the Coolspring Township Volunteer Fire Department, the man was “conscious, alert and walking around” prior to being transported.
There were two other people in the business at the time, but they were in the front part of the building and escaped uninjured.
Some oil spilled into a nearby storm sewer and La Porte County HazMat was called out to contain.
Jeff Hamilton, director of La Porte County HazMat, said the explosion and subsequent fire caused “maybe 10 to 15 gallons” of oil to spill into the storm sewer, which drains into Trail Creek and eventually Lake Michigan.
Hamilton said his crew was able to get ahead of the spill pretty fast, putting down an absorbent boom and a biodegradable substance that helps break the oil up. Hamilton said it was “not a lot” of oil and that the spill was easily contained.
Mike Lusco, a firefighter with Coolspring Township Volunteer Fire Department, said the force of the blast was substantial. So much so, in fact, that one of the coworkers who was in the front part of the building was knocked down as a result of the explosion, though he wasn’t injured. Also, the roof on the back part of the building, made of shingles and wood, was blown off — most likely by the explosion as opposed to the resulting fire — according to Drzewiecki.
Given that, Lusco said, the business owner was “very lucky” to escape with the injuries he had.
Both Lusco and Drzewiecki surmised that the oil drum exploded most likely because sparks from the welding ignited some other flammable source, which then ignited the drum.