Explosion at area hotel left several injured

by Amber Bhutta | 1/7/20 2:10am

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A Christmas Eve explosion at the Element Hotel in Lebanon has rendered the establishment inoperable for the foreseeable future.

Source: Courtesy of Lebanon Fire Department

Just three miles from campus, an electrical fire and propane leak caused an explosion at the Element Hotel in Lebanon, which injured eight guests and two firefighters this past Christmas Eve. The hotel faced extensive internal and external damage and, according to the Lebanon Fire Department, cannot be safely re-occupied at this time.

According to a press release from the Lebanon Fire Department, the incident “does not appear to be criminal in nature.” The fire department arrived at the hotel in response to an initial fire alarm at around 5:15 a.m. on Dec. 24. Preliminary examination of the scene revealed that an electrical fire in an electrical room on the first floor of the hotel and a propane leak in an adjacent room caused the explosion. A small fire also occurred on the fifth floor in a utility room.  

“Coincidentally, unbeknownst to us, we had a propane leak in the main mechanical room,” said Lebanon fire chief Chris Christopoulos. 

He explained the exhaust system cycled air in and out of the mechanical room, likely drawing leaking propane up into the exhaust system. A power outage disrupted the exhaust function, causing propane to build up in the mechanical room.

“We don’t know how long [the propane leak] had been going on,” Christopoulos said. “But once the power went out, the exhaust couldn’t work anymore. Because propane is heavier than air, a fair amount of propane sucked back down into the mechanical room. When our guys attempted to make entry to the area to access the electrical room, there was a some type of source that ignited that propane and caused the explosion.”

Two firefighters, Todd Hamilton and Captain Jeffery Egner, were injured during the explosion and taken to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. According to Christopoulos, Hamilton spent Christmas at DHMC with head injuries, a broken arm and broken ribs, and Egner received treatment for a head injury. Both have since been released. 

“They’re both home recovering,” Christopoulos said. He went on to describe the situation as a “Christmas miracle,” in that there were no life-threatening injuries. 

“Had these firefighters or any of the civilians been standing near the door when it happened, we’d be dealing with a much bigger incident right now,” he said.

At the time of the explosion, the hotel housed three staff members as well as 80 guests, who occupied 54 of the hotel’s 120 guest rooms. Eight guests were transported to DHMC for minor injuries incurred during the evacuation process, and all have been released. The remaining occupants were evacuated safely, including a cat and three guests rescued by firefighters through first-floor windows. A total of nine departments and 40 to 50 personnel responded to the incident. 

“When the explosion happened, you could see the whole thing bend,” said hotel guest Shih-In Ma in an interview with WCAX-TV. “I’ve never seen anything like that before — the glass and the metal just bent.”

Dee Dee Douchen, a spokesperson for the hotel’s management company, True North Hotel Group, said she was pleased that there were no severe injuries and that the occupants were quickly evacuated and relocated.

The displaced guests were relocated to two other Marriott hotels nearby. Though the hotel staff was later allowed into the building to help retrieve guests’ belongings, a few of the guest rooms were damaged beyond accessibility.