GHENT, W.Va. (AP) – The West Virginia state fire marshal on Wednesday retracted his statement announcing the death of a fifth person injured in a propane blast that destroyed a convenience store.

State Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis initially said the manager of the Flat Top Little General Store had died in the explosion Tuesday that reduced the store to a pile of splintered debris and twisted metal.

Lewis later retracted that statement, saying five people remained hospitalized with burns and other injuries.

Lewis attributed the mistake to erroneous information from hospital officials.

“I requested that it be confirmed at four different times, and they confirmed it each time,” he said.

Tuesday’s explosion occurred as emergency workers were investigating a report of a propane tank leak.

Authorities believe the gas fumes drifted into the store, where they somehow ignited, Lewis said.

The propane tank was used to heat ovens at a pizzeria inside the store and had undergone maintenance a couple of days before the blast, Lewis said.

A federal expert said the propane could have been touched off by as little as a spark of static electricity developed by someone 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. In the wintertime, you tend to get little sparks,” said Ken Cashdollar, who works for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s in Pittsburgh.

The cause of the explosion remained under investigation.

The blast killed a volunteer firefighter, a building inspector and two other people in this rural community about 70 miles southeast of Charleston.

The victims were identified as Frederick A. Burroughs, 51, of Ghent; Craig Lawrence Dorsey, 24, of MacArthur; and Glen Ray Bennett, 44, and Jeffrey Lee Treadway, 21, both of Beckley.

AP-ES-01-31-07 1749EST


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