A series of explosions which spawned a 20-by-20 foot fireball at a central Florida propane plant has left nine people injured, with at least five of them in critical condition. The massive explosions happened late Monday night at the Blue Rhino propane exchange plant located in the central Florida town of Tavares.
Preliminary statements from Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith identified either human error or equipment malfunction as the possible cause for the blast and said sabotage is not suspected. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched an investigation, as has the Florida State Fire Marshal's Office.
Lake County Sheriff's Office spokesman John Herrell said at a news conference that there were about 53,000 20-gallon tanks - more than a million pounds in all - at the plant. At the time of the explosion, there were 24 to 26 workers at the plant for an overnight shift.
The explosions could be felt for miles. Firefighters immediately set up a half-mile evacuation area around the plant. Residents were allowed to return to their homes early Tuesday morning. There were reports of trucks parked at the plant going up in “fireballs” as the cylinders they were carrying exploded.
In an interview with Fox News, Tavares Battalion Commander Eric Wages said five workers walked up to a command center firefighters set up near the plant Monday night with skin hanging off their arms, torso and faces. He said their arms were outstretched and they were in complete shock.
Gene Williams, a third-shift maintenance worker at the plant, is being credited with rescuing a forklift operator who was engulfed in flames. Williams found the victim on the loading dock area and put the man into a van, just as cylinders began exploding and raining back down to the ground. He quickly got the man to the hospital.
According to Williams, the forklift driver told him, “I did what they told me to do, I did what they told me to do, and then this happened,” indicating to Williams that the cause of the explosion may be a “combination of human error and bad practices, possibly. I don't want to speculate any further, that's
In 2011, OSHA fined Blue Rhino in 2011 over a “serious” safety violation involving tools and equipment. The violation was due to an air nozzle at the facility that had a missing component.
Emergency Film Group’s Propane, Butane & Propylene is part of the HazChem Series of safety training videos. This program focuses on propane, butane and propylene are the most common liquefied petroleum gases. Highly flammable, their containers can fail with explosive force. To learn more, read here. . .