By Pete Soyer
Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher had some unexpected fireworks Sunday evening.
His camper exploded shortly before 6 p.m. while he was stopped in Shelby.
Kaercher said he was stopped in front of Taylor Hardware when it felt like someone ran into his pickup. He jumped out to see what happened and saw the trailer in flames. He yelled to his wife to get their daughter out of the pickup. He reached in, grabbed his cell phone and dialed 911.
"Within 10 minutes the trailer and pickup were engulfed in flames," Kaercher said.
All four sides of the trailer blew out in separate directions, and the trailer door flew through the door of the hardware store, Kaercher said. Pieces of the trailer were all over the highway.
He said an extra propane tank he carries in the camper for his barbecue and lanterns could have leaked and ignited from a spark or the pilot light on the refrigerator.
Shelby Fire Chief Norm Nelson said a buildup of propane was the cause of the fire. "When it hit an ignition source, it went boom."
Nelson said he isn't sure where the propane was coming from, but thought it was possibly a line from the stove or from Kaercher's extra propane tank.
Nelson said he was on the first fire truck to reach Kaercher, and the pickup and trailer were fully engulfed when he arrived. A huge cloud of black smoke was rising over the town when he got the call, he said.
Nelson added that one of his firefighters was leaving Cut Bank when the explosion happened and he could see the smoke cloud there.
Kaercher said the only thing left after the fire were metal pieces of the pickup and trailer.
"Even the aluminum rims from the pickup were melted," he said.
The pickup and trailer burned to the ground, Kaercher said, but no one was injured.
The Kaerchers were on their way back to Havre after dropping off their other daughter at a church camp and spending a day in Columbia Falls.