Propane plant explodes in Florida

No injuries in propane plant explosion in central Florida

July 30, 2013

A series of explosions caused by propane tank cylinders rocked central Florida late Monday. The blasts at the Blue Rhino plant in Tavares injured eight plant works, said John Herrell of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

Herrell said there were no fatalities despite massive blasts that ripped through the plant. Official initially scrambled to find more than a dozen employees after the explosion.

“The fact that there are no fatalities is a blessing,” said John Drury, the city administrator of Tavares, a community of some 14,000 residents about 30 miles northwest of Orlando. “This was a big deal, and a lot of people responded quickly.”

Trucks parked at the plant went up in fireballs as the cylinders they were carrying exploded. The nighttime sky flickered in hues of orange.

There were 24 employees at work at the time of the blasts, according to Scott Brockelmeyer, a spokesman for Ferrellgas, the parent company of Blue Rhino. He said the company is cooperating with investigators.

The incident was “as sobering as you can possibly imagine,” he told CNN. “We’re sending good vibes their way from all over the country.”

The situation is now contained and an evacuation order issued overnight has been lifted, the Florida Division of Emergency Management said in a news release.

Equipment failure and human error likely caused propane tank cylinders to explode at the refilling plant, a fire official said Tuesday.

There were 53,000 20-pound cylinders of propane at the facility- more than a million pounds in all, Herrell said.

The plant produces 2.3 million tanks annually, and serves all of Florida, southern Georgia and southern Alabama.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Blue Rhino in 2011 over a “serious” safety violation involving tools and equipment. It is not clear whether safety violations had anything to do with the fire.

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

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