Debris litters the area near 15 Mile Road and Groesbeck Highway in Clinton Township on March 5, the morning after an explosive fire at Select Distributors.

Debris litters the area near 15 Mile Road and Groesbeck Highway in Clinton Township on March 5, the morning after an explosive fire at Select Distributors.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes

One dead after smoke shop inferno

Investigation ongoing into explosions, massive fire at 15 Mile and Groesbeck

By: Dean Vaglia | Fraser-Clinton Chronicle | Published March 5, 2024

 The debris field included whole metal canisters and chunks of shrapnel from those that exploded. A 19-year-old man reportedly died after he was hit by debris.

The debris field included whole metal canisters and chunks of shrapnel from those that exploded. A 19-year-old man reportedly died after he was hit by debris.

Photo by Patricia O'Blenes


CLINTON TOWNSHIP — An explosive fire that obliterated a Clinton Township business claimed the life of one person and scattered debris around 15 Mile Road and Groesbeck Highway March 4. 

The day after, investigators were at the scene trying to determine what exploded, how it ignited and how it got there.  

At around 9 p.m. on March 4, a fire at Select Distributors turned explosive, triggering a multi-alarm fire that was not controlled until the early hours of March 5. The fire spread to surrounding train tracks but was able to be contained, with tracks being cleared for service around 1:30 p.m. on March 5. Remaining small fires at the scene are being handled as they are discovered. The site is being fenced off and police will be on-site to secure the investigation area.

Nitrous oxide canisters at Select Distributors made fighting the fire highly dangerous as the exploding tanks sent shrapnel flying a quarter-mile or more, killing a 19-year-old man at a nearby car wash and sending one Clinton Township firefighter to the hospital with minor injuries. At least one building across 15 Mile has a hole in its roof from the ejected debris.

“It’s one of those fires you don’t run across very often,” said Tim Duncan, chief of the Clinton Township Fire Department. “We had to be looking out pretty much every second because we had a fatality from a bystander on the scene, and obviously that person never knew what was coming at him … Even though we’ve got helmets, we’ve got gear, if one of those things comes out and hits you in the chest or somewhere else, in the face, you’re probably going to succumb to it.”

The civilian who was killed was hit in the head by shrapnel and reportedly died at the hospital around 4 a.m. on March 5. His family has reportedly been notified. A Clinton Township firefighter was sent to the hospital for a suspected closed-head injury after shrapnel broke the glass on a fire truck. 

An early concern about the fire was that the water supply and air near the facility would be toxic, a danger made all the more important as homes and schools are close by. Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel said the county’s hazardous materials team found no such dangers present.

“There was a determination made early on that there was no concern as far as anything toxic in the air, so that was eliminated as a problem for residents in the surrounding area,” Hackel said. “People were wondering if there was anything leaking into the water systems or anything; that (kind of contamination is) just not feasible, so that was not a concern, either.”

Bits, pieces and whole nitrous oxide tanks littered the surrounding area the morning after. Depending on the size and state of debris found, residents are urged to call the Macomb County dispatch center at (586) 469-5502. At least 25 unexploded tanks have been found as of March 5.

“Most of (the debris) are harmless and not of any concern, but there may be some canisters that might still be full that might have gotten launched out of the facility,” Hackel said. “People see that and we’re encouraging them to call the dispatch center.”

Unexploded canisters will be handled by the Michigan State Police bomb squad. The Clinton Township Department of Public Services is handling cleanup within a two-mile radius of the scene. Sidewalks and roadways around the scene were cleared for traffic by 4 p.m. on March 5, though the public is asked to stay away from the site.

Residents and businesses with property damaged by the fire are urged to document it though the township’s website at

Clinton Township has declared a state of emergency and has been given guarantees of support from state and federal agencies.

“I’ve been contacted by Capt. (Kevin) Sweeney, who is the deputy director of the emergency management division of the Michigan State Police,” said Paul Brouwer, Clinton Township emergency management coordinator, at a March 5 press conference. “He has assured me that we will (have) access to whatever resources that the state can supply for us, if it need be. We also got contacted by the intergovernmental affairs person from the White House … and they have also, in that email, indicated they will work with us to get whatever resources that we may need to get to the bottom of this.”

The investigation into the fire is already underway both by Clinton Township’s police and fire departments. Notably, the Clinton Township Fire Department was unaware of the hazards posed by the Select Distributors based on the township’s prior information on the business. 

“When they first had the inspections through the building department and planning department, it was supposed to be a retail facility, not something that would be storing this type of containers,” Duncan said. “That’s going to be looked at pretty hard. Two of the owners were interviewed last night at the police department along with the ATF and our fire inspectors and investigators, so I’m sure there's a lot of questions that will have to be answered here shortly.”

Located just off of 15 Mile, Select Distributors shared its building with Goo Smoke Shop. The Select Distributors website as of March 5 showed it selling nitrous oxide tanks ranging from 310-2000 grams, as well as vaporizers and assorted accessories, smoking glassware, paraphernalia and miscellaneous convenience store items. Hazardous items stored on the site include the various nitrous oxide containers, lighters, torches, butane and vaporizer batteries.

Owners and employees of the business have been interviewed by township police and are “cooperative and forthright,” according to Brouwer. The retail store was closed at the time of the incident with employees on site filling online orders, according to Clinton Township Police Chief Dina Caringi.

While Clinton Township Supervisor Robert Cannon said that hazardous materials were “illegally” on-site, inspections of the site in 2022 and 2023 by fire and building officials uncovered no issues relevant to the incident. The township received one complaint for the site due to duck boats being stored illegally in the parking lot, which were removed after a warning from township officials.

“I’m very proud of all the members of our department and all the surrounding communities that assisted with us,” Duncan said. “You sit there as you got home last night, sitting down and realizing that we’re very fortunate that none of our personnel succumbed to any of these injuries.”