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Fire investigator: Vape pen explosion may have killed St. Pete man

Man found dead in St. Pete house fire
Man found dead at St. Pete house fire
Man found dead at St. Pete house fire
Posted at 1:22 PM, May 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-07 20:15:58-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- We have seen them on national headlines. E-cigs and vape pens exploding causing burns and serious injuries. Now, fire investigators believe it could have led to a death on Saturday.

The Pinellas County Medical Examiner is going through several steps to find out if a vape pen could have caused a St. Petersburg man's death. St. Pete fire investigators saying the vape pen may have caused a fire which killed Tallmadge Wakeman D'Elia.

His father, Christopher D’Elia is desperate for answers and he says if a vape pen caused his son’s death, he wants to be able to warn other families about the dangers of the devices.

Tallmadge Wakeman D'Elia, who went by “Wake," died in a fire in an upstairs bedroom inside a home at 316 19th Ave NE.

“This is a terrible shock," Christopher D'Elia explained, “Anybody who has lost a son, doesn’t want anybody else to lose a child to something like this.”

A recent FEMA/ US Fire Administration report found e-cigarette and vape explosions are not common, when they do happen, the shape of the devices make them behave like “flaming rockets.”

“A 38 year old should not be gone, and his mother and I are devastated," D'Elia said.

Investigators are working to find out if a vape pen caused the fire that killed Wake on Saturday. When firefighters discovered him, 45% of his body was covered in burns.

“I don’t know much about the vape technology. I didn’t really find what he was doing attractive, and I asked him not to do it in the house because I didn’t like the odor, and he didn’t. His mother and I weren't home, so that's why he may have been using it inside," D'Elia explained.

Christopher D’Elia says he'll remember his son as talented and bright. Wake D'Elia worked as an accomplished technical supervisor at CNBC’s headquarters in New Jersey.

“He was so smart, so talented," his dad explained, fighting emotions.

D'Elia moved to Florida to start a new life.

“It's just so sad. He loved his job. He loved being in the control room, it was very taxing work though," D'Elia added.

Fire investigators are still working to figure out officially what happened, but if you use e-cigs or vapes, they recommend only using the charger that comes with your device.

Lt. Steven Lawrence, a deputy fire marshal for St. Pete Fire & Rescue, believes D’Elia’s vape pen exploded and led to his death.

"It's like having a small, little larger than a firecracker, in your hand," Lawrence said, "It can explode and at that point it can project either the pieces of the lighter itself or the vape pen. They become pieces of flying debris and shrapnel."

Officials won’t know the official cause of death until an autopsy is completed. If this is indeed what happened it could be the first vape pen explosion death in the nation.

According to a report by the U.S Fire Administration, part of FEMA, from 2000 to 2016 there were nearly 200 such reported explosions but no one died. The report calls fires or explosions caused by the batteries “uncommon” but that “consequences can be devastating and life-altering for the victims."

Authorities are expecting to get an official cause of death by early this week.