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Explosions at Blue Rhino Propane Tank Facility in Tavares, Florida Injures 8

Propane Plant Explosion

A massive explosion at the Blue Rhino facility in Lake County late Monday night, where workers refurbish old propane cylinders and refill them to sell again, injured eight people with at least five in critical condition.

John Herrell of the Lake County Sheriff's Office said early Tuesday that no one died despite massive blasts that ripped through the Blue Rhino propane plant late Monday night.

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

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

Officials initially reported they could not account for more than a dozen employees after the explosions.

Blue Rhino Explosion

Early Tuesday morning, Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith told reporters on scene that, "we don't think there was any act of sabotage or anything like that."

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."

Equipment failure and human error are likely to be the cause of the propane tank cylinders to explode at a central Florida refilling plant late Monday, a fire official said Tuesday.

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.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) opened an investigation with the Florida explosion, said U.S. Department of Labor spokesman Lindsay Williams.

"We don't have any details regarding the event. As is standard OSHA policy, OSHA has up to six months from the beginning of its investigation to issue its findings and determine whether any OSHA standards were violated," Williams said. "OSHA does not issue preliminary or interim reports, so we won't be able to comment on the investigation until the final report is issued."

Tavares Florida

Blue Rhino is a subsidiary of Overland Park, Kansas-based Ferrellgas.

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