NEW INFO: Separate Oxygen Tank Explosions Kill Two

Authorities say it doesn't appear faulty equipment was behind two deadly fires involving exploding oxygen tanks in Pitt County on Saturday.

The first fire happened at a home on Highway 258 early Saturday morning. Killed was 55-year-old Larry Duncan.

Then around 9:10 a.m. Paul Rich was killed when fire ripped through his Winterville home. Both men had oxygen tanks in their homes.

Pitt County Emergency Management does not feel the fires were caused by the oxygen tanks exploding by themselves. They believe a fire in both homes interacted with the tanks, causing them to explode.

They are looking at whether both victims were smokers and if that played a part sparking the fires.


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Pitt County officials are investigating two separate fires that they believe may have started from two separate oxygen tank explosions.

Firefighters got the call at 9:11 a.m. Saturday morning about a fire at 1438 Gold Leaf Drive in Winterville.

Officials say 71-year-old Paul Rich was inside the home when they believe his oxygen tank exploded. Rich did not survive and the explosion is believed to have caused the fire.

Three firefighters from Eastern Pines Fire Department received minor injuries from steam burns at the scene. They were treated on site and released.

In an unrelated, but similar incident overnight in Fountain; officials say another man, 55-year-old Larry Duncan, was killed in a fire. Officials believe that fire was also caused by an oxygen tank explosion.

That happened at 2276 U.S. 258.

Both incidents are under investigation and autopsy results are pending.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by question on Nov 14, 2011 at 01:05 PM
    Does anyone know whether the two oxygen tanks were both gotten from the same business? Just wondering.
  • by Tish Location: Farmville on Nov 13, 2011 at 06:48 PM
    I'm sorry for the loss of these two men, I knew Larry but not the other gentlmen i will keep the families in prayer, It was a fire around the corner from me I beleive it was Thursday about 1:oo am & i was told that it was from the same thing & the man who use the the tank isn't doing to good,wish him the best also,& I hope ppl will check into what's going on with these tanks because i have a good friend who have to use one...
  • by Concerned Friend Location: Behel on Nov 13, 2011 at 06:25 AM
    Paul was a special person to my family.Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.People please remember that Paul's family does not need negative comments at this time. RIP Mr.Paul..we will always remember you and your kindness.
  • by Anonymous on Nov 12, 2011 at 09:21 PM
    FYI, oxygen does not burn. It is not like propane, natural gas, or acetylene. Oxygen is an oxidizer and makes fuels burn hotter. So, if someone is smoking near flowing oxygen and the O2, which is almost 100% pure O2 gets near the tobacco, causes the tobacco to burn much hotter and faster. It is a flash fire and can get very large very fast. When welders cut metal with a torch, oxygen is mixed with acetylene and it burns hotter, melting the metal, thus cutting it. Oxygen tanks do not explode. The either fall over and the valve breaks off or they are exposed to fire and the soft plug melts out and O2 flows freely making the fire bigger. If the soft plug melts out and the relief point cannot handle the flow and the fire touchs the steel cylinder, the steel can become soft and the tank suffers a BLEVE-boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion. If the O2 gets in the fire area, it would make the fire larger.
  • by jason Location: Farmville on Nov 12, 2011 at 08:53 PM
    I'm sorry to hear this. Paul was a great guy. We all looked forward to seeing him on friday mornings at Car Sounds and Security in Greenville.
    • reply
      by Paul Jr. on Nov 13, 2011 at 05:06 AM in reply to jason
      Thamk You, Dad loved his Mac Tool route, He looked forward to visiting many of his loyal customers. He was a good people person and could talk to anyone.... PJR
      • reply
        by Steve B. on Nov 13, 2011 at 06:54 AM in reply to Paul Jr.
        Paul Jr., I lived across from you back in Highland. I'm sorry to hear about your father's passing. He was a good guy. I bought from him when he stopped at the body shops I worked at over the years.
      • reply
        by Trena on Nov 14, 2011 at 05:39 AM in reply to Paul Jr.
        Paul, Jr., I am Mack & Shirley's stepdaughter. I am praying for your family during this difficult time.
  • by Steve Location: Belhaven on Nov 12, 2011 at 07:41 PM
    Both W lnterville and Fountain are both close to Greenville.They both could have been charged/filled at the same time and location.They could have gotten the petroleum oil from that source.Pure Oxygen and petro oil will explode WITHOUT A SPARK!!
  • by Reply to Amy in DC Location: NC on Nov 12, 2011 at 06:58 PM
    Finally, someone with some knowledge on cylinders!!! People don't seem to understand that oxygen is NOT an explosive gas, but it does "add fuel" to the fire. The cylinders do NOT explode per se, but seem to explode due to the massive amount of pressure (depending on the type of cylinder there could be about 2200 PSI). Smoking a cigarette around oxygen will NOT cause a fire...there has to be something more! However, as someone mentioned below...smoking with a nasal cannula in while the oxygen is on can/will cause a fire and some nasty burns on the face.
  • by this guy Location: Farmville on Nov 12, 2011 at 05:50 PM
    Was this the "Paul Rich" that used to drive the Mac Tools truck?
    • reply
      by Paul Jr. on Nov 12, 2011 at 07:58 PM in reply to this guy
      Yes, Paul Rich had a Mac Tools business for many years, he was a very good man and I beleive he was always fair and honest...HE WILL BE DEARLY MISSED! Paul J Rich Jr.
      • reply
        by Donnie B on Nov 13, 2011 at 05:43 AM in reply to Paul Jr.
        Paul was a great guy. He was the first Mac tool man I met and enjoyed working with him. Please pray for his family during this difficult time.
  • by hmm Location: Kinston on Nov 12, 2011 at 04:40 PM
    I wonder if the tanks were supplied by the same company. Sounds strange for this to happen twice within 24 hrs.
    • reply
      by Paul Jr. on Nov 13, 2011 at 04:42 AM in reply to hmm
      This had nothing to do with the tanks! PJR
  • by Wharf Rat Location: Manteo on Nov 12, 2011 at 03:42 PM
    Oxygen will not burn, it just acellerates anything else that does burn.
    • reply
      by tragic on Nov 12, 2011 at 04:18 PM in reply to Wharf Rat
      but it will flash / explode under certain circumstances. Particle impingements, contact with carbon based particulate or substances, etc. You wouldnt believe the types of precautions and procedures involved when dealing with equipment that comes into contact with 40%-100% oxygen. Especially under pressure. Its nerve-racking at times.
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