MOORE — Moments before a fireball engulfed Twister Distillery on Friday morning, distiller Jeff Thurmon was telling a reporter from The Oklahoman how he had worked for three straight days to fill the company’s first order for 100 cases of Success Vodka.
“It’s been going 24 hours a day, nonstop; there’s alcohol and flame involved, so you can’t leave it,” Thurmon said.
Minutes later, a geyser of clear alcohol began spewing several feet into the air from a makeshift still in the garage bay Twister Distillery rents in a Moore industrial park. The room then erupted in a flash of orange flame as Thurmon rushed to shut off a propane tank.
The heat from the flash flame caused glass bottles at the distillery to explode. The sound of shattering liquor bottles could be heard for several minutes after the blast.
“That should not have happened — I should have never have had people here,” Thurmon said after the explosion, sitting outside the building in his underwear before paramedics and fire crews arrived on the scene around 10 a.m. Friday.
His clothes had been burned off and his skin was reddish-orange. Thurmon appeared to be badly burned over most of his body. The flash flame had scorched off his three-day growth of facial hair.
“He (Thurmon) has a rule that he doesn’t have people here while he’s making it (vodka), but we thought it would be OK,” said Alvin Philipose, a local chiropractor who owns Twister Distillery.
Thurmon was taken by helicopter to Integris Baptist Medical Center. He was listed in critical condition Friday with second-degree burns covering 52 percent of his body, hospital staff said.
A photographer and videographer for The Oklahoman had just left the distillery after taking photographs and video for a newspaper story about Success Vodka when the explosion happened. A reporter was still at the distillery conducting interviews and witnessed the still erupt and subsequent flash fire.
Philipose said the blast was caused after the still overheated, causing alcohol to erupt from the top of the structure.
“It was an ethanol flash, the still overheated and the alcohol in the air caught fire,” he said minutes after the blast, which sent white smoke billowing throughout the industrial park.
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