A propane tank from an outdoor heater caught fire in downtown Rochester before exploding.

A propane tank from an outdoor heater caught fire in downtown Rochester before exploding.

Photo provided by the Rochester Fire Department

Propane tank explosion injures seven in downtown Rochester

Fire chief: ‘It was a tragic incident that happened’

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published May 20, 2024


A propane tank caught fire and exploded on the sidewalk in downtown Rochester, injuring seven people, including five who were taken to the hospital, May 18. 

Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik said the firefighters were dispatched to the 400 block of Main Street for a fire at about 8:41 p.m., and while enroute, an explosion occurred on the sidewalk in front of 423 Main Bar, Grille & Rooftop.

The explosion sent debris flying through the area, causing damage and injuries. 

“When we pulled up, the scene was very chaotic, lots of people. The firefighters stepped into action to go ahead and get things under control, and they quickly realized that there were multiple people that were seriously hurt in the explosion,” Cieslik said. “When things got sorted out, we realized there were five seriously injured people that continued to need attention, along with two other people that we checked out and they did not want to go to the hospital.”

Two injured children were transported to Royal Oak Beaumont, while the three injured adults were taken to either Troy Beaumont or Ascension Providence Rochester. 

“We don’t have a handle on the types of injuries, because of the incident. With the explosion, they were immediately transported to the local hospitals,” Cieslik said. 

First responders believe the propane tank from an outdoor heater first caught fire and then fell on its side, causing an explosion. 

“We are still trying to gather all of the facts, but what we think happened at this point was someone from the restaurant, at 8:43 p.m., was lighting a propane heater out front of the building and something happened — we don’t know what yet, so we are investigating,” Cieslik said. “That caught fire, and then, in a few minutes, exploded, so it was a propane tank that exploded.” 

Some have questioned why someone would be lighting a propane heater on a hot evening in May.

“That’s part of our investigation,” Cieslik explained. “We’re asking that same question.”

Although nothing else besides the propane tank caught fire that evening, the explosion caused damage to nearby buildings, from 423 Main to the corner of Main Street and University. 

“There were signs that were blown off the front of the building and damage done to lighting along that corridor, from the middle of the block north to University and Main Street,” Cieslik added.

Emergency responders from Rochester Hills, Oakland Township, Auburn Hills, Addison, Bloomfield Township, Bruce-Romeo, Orion, Shelby Township, Sterling Heights, Washington Township and the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office assisted Rochester fire and police.

“It was a tragic incident that happened, but the police and fire in the area rose to the occasion and really brought some coordination to a very chaotic incident, which limited the injuries and got the people who were injured to the hospital in the quickest possible way,” said Cieslik.

A representative from 423 Main Bar, Grille & Rooftop could not be reached for comment at press time.