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Oil storage tank explosion kills Russell man

WILSON — What caused an oil storage tank to explode, killing a Russell man, late Friday afternoon two miles east of Wilson will be difficult if not impossible to determine, Ellsworth County Sheriff Tracy Ploutz said Monday.
A memorial service for Randy “Rudy” W. Ehrlich, 48, is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at the Pohlman-Varner-Peeler Mortuary Chapel in Russell.
According to obituary information, Ehrlich spent his life working in the oil field industry and was a mechanic, demolition and construction worker for Western Sales of Bunker Hill.
Two other workers at Western Sales who were north of the tank when it blew up shortly before 5 p.m. Friday were not injured, Ploutz said.
Ehrlich had been working south of the tank, which put him in the path of the blast when it occurred, Ploutz said.
The cause of the explosion remains under investigation, but officials might not be able to determine the ignition source, he said.
When firefighters with the Wilson Fire Department arrived, the south end of the property was fully engulfed in flame, and Ehrlich was not accounted for, Ploutz said.
When the fire was brought under control, Ehrlich’s body was located near the rubble of the exploded tank, he said.
The explosion occurred about a half mile north of Old 40 Highway on Third Road, Ploutz said.
The men had been cleaning up at the site because the storage tank, called an oil tank battery, had caught fire from a lightning strike about 12 hours earlier, Ploutz said. The Wilson Fire Department had extinguished that blaze about 4:30 a.m.
Ploutz said during the cleanup from the first fire the men were using cutting torches and other tools in the area, but he did not know if their work could have re-ignited the tank.

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