Lewiston firefighters respond to an equipment explosion on Sabattus Street in Lewiston on Friday afternoon. A worker was severely burned. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — A man was badly burned Friday afternoon when an asphalt sealing machine exploded and burst into flames, blowing off the man’s clothes in a Sabattus Street parking lot.

Flames and smoke after an asphalt sealing machine caught fire Friday on Sabattus Street in Lewiston. Brian Enos photo

Several witnesses reported hearing the explosion and seeing a bright flare of flames as the machine caught fire at 1296 Sabattus St. at about 4:15 p.m.

“The flames must have been 30-40 feet in the air,” said Brian Enos, who witnessed the explosion as he was driving home.

It appeared the machinery, owned by DMR Sealcoating of Auburn, was being loaded into the back of a company truck when it caught fire. Fire crews made quick work of the flames, but one man was burned and the machine was left blackened by the flames.

Enos described what he saw when the machine caught fire as he was driving by.

“A big white plume of smoke came out and started going across the road. I thought, ‘What the hell is that?’ Then I saw a flame shoot out the back and there was a massive explosion,” he said. “It was so loud.”

Minutes later, he saw the machine operator stumbling away from the flames.

Lewiston firefighters douse an asphalt sealing machine Friday afternoon on Sabattus Street. A man was badly burned when the machine exploded. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“He had probably been working on the machine. He was trying to get away from it,” Enos said. “His clothes had been blown off and they were almost completely charred. His skin was in a bad condition. He was screaming pretty loudly. It was one of those things you’ll never forget. It was horrible.”

Enos pulled over to help and found that several others had done the same.

“Thankfully, there were some people there with a pretty good first aid kit,” he said. “There was a man hosing him down lightly with a mist before any help could get there.”

It was not immediately clear what caused the machine to catch fire. Lewiston fire officials said the flames were fed by diesel fuel, but they were able to douse them quickly when they arrived at the scene.

The machinery was impounded by the State Fire Marshal’s Office for investigation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was contacted. Representatives from that group are expected to begin their own investigation next week.

The name of the man who was burned was not available. His condition was unknown later Friday night, although it was believed he had been taken to Central Maine Medical Center.

One fire captain praised the quick actions of passersby in helping the victim, as did Enos.

“There were definitely a lot of good Samaritans out there trying to help him out,” he said.

As fire and rescue crews responded, police limited traffic to one lane through the area, causing brief traffic snarls.

The fire was still being investigated later Friday.

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