Several powerful explosions shook a propane plant in Lake County, Fla., in the night of July 29, injuring seven people and prompting the evacuation of residents at least half a mile away, the Washington Post reported.
According to reports, more than 20 workers were at the Blue Rhino gas plant at the time of the explosions. All employees were accounted for after the blasts, with seven people taken to hospital for a treatment. Two men in critical condition were taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center with burns, a spokeswoman for the hospital said. Another employee was in stable condition at Ocala Regional Medical Center, officials announced. No injuries among local residents were reported.
John Herrell of the Lake County Sheriff's Office explained that 15 people were unaccounted for in the immediate aftermath of the blasts, but all were found later. Several people managed to escape the site unharmed and a number of others sought medical treatment on their own.
The explosions blew off the roof of the plant and continued for about an hour. A huge fire caused by the blasts added to the gravity of the situation, as trucks used to transport propane to and from the plant were also engulfed by the flames. Firefighters managed to contain the fire within hours but Herrell noted that there was no guarantee that fire would not break out again. The cause of the initial explosion is not yet known but investigators will start examining the site once it has been declared safe.
Witnesses stated that the giant flames over the plant could be seen as far as five miles away. Local people described the explosions as resembling loud shotguns or fireworks and said they saw a bright orange glow above treetops.
According to the Washington Post, the Blue Rhino propane facility cleaned, inspected and refilled propane tanks, usually intended for home barbecues and other uses. Herrell explained that the plant typically stored 53,000 20-pound propane tanks.
The first explosion occurred inside the building just before 11pm and continued for half an hour. There was a second blast about an hour and a half after the first one, this time in the area where tractor-trailers loaded with propane tanks were parked, Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith explained. It is believed that the trailers were loaded with between 4,000 and 5,000 tanks, former plant supervisor Don Ingram told local TV station WESH-TV. Firefighters were ordered to leave the site after the second explosion until things had settled, Keith said.
By 1:00 a.m. the fire had subsided and more than 200 firefighters, emergency medical personnel and police officers, as well as officials from state and federal agencies, were at the site of the explosion, Herrell pointed out. The incident could have been worse and people could have been more seriously hurt but, although the initial situation had calmed down, the scene is still dangerous. Firefighters are still being extremely cautious about the possibility of a further explosion, he explained.