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Massive explosions rock central Fla. gas plant

Fla. (AP) — A series of explosions rocked a central Florida propane gas
plant and sent "boom after boom after boom" through the neighborhood
around it. Eight people were injured, with at least four in critical

John Herrell
of the Lake County Sheriff's Office said early Tuesday there were no
fatalities despite massive blasts that ripped through the Blue Rhino
propane plant late Monday night. Officials initially scrambled to find
more than a dozen employees after the explosions.

"Management is comfortable saying all of those they knew were there tonight have been accounted for," he said.

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

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

Blue Rhino plant, which is northwest of Orlando, refilled propane tanks
typically used for barbecues and other uses. There were some 53,000
20-gallon tanks at the plant on Monday.

Herrell said a crew of 24 to 26 people was working the overnight shift when the explosions occurred around 10:30 p.m. Monday.

morning, smoke still billowed from a storage container on the property,
which consists of a couple of warehouses next to each other. The
parking lot was littered with thousands of blackened 20-gallon propane

Nearby, 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."

said firefighters who responded to the initial fire had to wait to
enter plant site because conditions were so dangerous. Just as they were
finally about to go in, four tractor trailers parked next to the large
propane tanks caught fire.

If the large tanks exploded, Croughwell said, "it would have wiped us out."

footage on WESH-TV in Orlando showed fires burning through trucks used
to transport propane tanks, which were parked at the plant. The fire
sent plumes of smoke into the air hours after the blast.

Keith said the explosions shook his house several miles from the plant. "It truly sounded like a car hit our house," he said.

Herrell said about 50 homes were evacuated Monday night but residents were allowed back in about four hours later.

Marni Whitehead, 33, who lives less than a mile from the plant, said she was in bed ready to go to sleep when she heard a loud boom.

She ran outside and saw other neighbors outside and then they saw the explosions.

"We knew right away it was the plant, the propane plant," Whitehead said. "After that, it was just sort of panic."

Whitehead likened the explosions to Fourth of July fireworks. "And it was just boom after boom after boom," she said.

Herrell said officials believe the fire was contained and wouldn't spread to another part of the plant.

According to the Leesburg Daily Commercial, the plant was built in 2004 and employs fewer than 50 people.


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