Victims of Friday fire, blast recovering

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 22, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Ricky Conner, owner of Oliver’s Grocery, and two of his employees, Virginia Lee and Steven Wayne Mizelle, are in fair condition at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital this morning.

The three were rushed there after being injured in a flash fire the Suffolk landmark on Holland Road Friday afternoon.

Email newsletter signup

Conner and the Mizelles were seriously burned when an explosion took place inside the store around 5:40 p.m. Friday. According to Capt. Arthur Barrett, fire marshal, all three had improved enough by Monday to discuss how the incident unfolded.

Suffolk Fire Department Capt. Jim Judkins said that propane gas used for cooking on the grill flashed to around 1,000 degrees and after the initial explosion, went out immediately.

Conner’s family declined to comment on the fire and explosion that rocked the store.

Ricky Conner is well-known in Suffolk as Roy’s and Ricky’s Catering, a business grew out of the small grocery that opened in the 1960s. Conner’s father, the late Roy Conner, first opened the store as a drive-up hot dog stand. It was during the mid-1970s that it grew it expanded to include a lunch stand.

Problems at Oliver’s Store began just before the noon Friday when a fire started in the grease tray under the grill as employees were cooking lunch, said Capt. James T. Judkins, spokesman for the Suffolk Fire Department. The blaze quickly spread to the cooking area around the grill.

Firefighters arrived on the scene to find heavy smoke coming from the rear of the single-story wood-frame building, Judkins said. They were able to contain the flames to the cooking area and hood system.

Two portable fire extinguishers and the hood extinguishing system held the fire in check until firefighters arrived, he said.

Once the fire was out, firefighters turned off a propane gas line, which is normal procedure after such an incident.

Firefighters left the scene but were back within a couple of hours when explosion occurred, blowing the back door off the building and injuring the Connor and his employees.

The Holland Road business was insured, Judkins said. The $75,000 building received $5,000 in damages. The building contents, also valued at $75,000, sustained an estimated $25,000 in damages.