Large Propane Explosion Injures Several, No Fatalities

A central Florida propane gas plant was rocked by a series of massive explosions that left eight people injured, half of them are in critical condition.

The entire neighborhood surrounding the propane gas plant heard blast after blast was felt when over 53,000 20-pound propane tanks exploded.

According to John Herrell of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, no one died despite massive blasts that ripped through the Blue Rhino propane plant late Monday night. Management said that all 14 of the full time employees and the 10 part time employees who worked at the plant have been accounted for.

Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith said possible causes of the explosion may be either equipment malfunction or possibly human error. Sabotage was not suspected in the accident.

One person injured in the explosion was listed in critical condition at University of Florida Health Shands Hospital and three others were listed in critical condition at Orlando Regional Medical Center. Herrell said some others drove themselves to area hospitals.

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.

The Blue Rhino plant, which is northwest of Orlando, refills propane tanks which are typically used for barbecues and other appliances. Blue Rhino is a subsidiary of Kansas-based national propane provider Ferrellgas.

Fortunately, three 33,000-pound tanks of propane sat untouched. Lake County Battalion Chief Chris Croughwell said the hoses designed to spray water on the large tanks in case of fire did not go off as planned because they had to be manually activated. “Most sane people don’t stick around for an event like this,” he added.

Tavares Mayor Robert Wolfe said Tuesday that he was surprised to learn the hoses at the plant had to be manually activated. If Blue Rhino reopens the plant, Wolfe said he plans to raise the safety issue. “That way, it’s fail safe,” Wolfe said. “We’re lucky those tanks didn’t explode.”

Residents of 50 homes were evacuated Monday night but residents were allowed back in about four hours later. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.

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