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Investigation Underway in Tavares Gas Plant Explosion; 9 Injured

July 30th, 2013 | WMFE - Investigators are trying to learn what sparked the series of massive blasts that tore through a Lake County propane gas plant Monday night. At least nine people were injured as explosions rocked the Blue Rhino plant.

[Orlando Regional Medical Center's Burn Unit Director Dr. Howard Smith speaks at a press conference about the Blue Rhino burn victims]

Fire crews late Tuesday morning watched for flare-ups in the charred remains of the Blue Rhino propane plant in Tavares, after overnight explosions shook nearby homes and shot flames into the sky.

Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith said the blaze was fueled by 53,000 small propane tanks used for backyard grilling and other recreational pursuits. He does not suspect foul play.

“We honestly think it was probably an equipment failure, with a combination of maybe human error from one of the staff,” said Keith.

Twenty-four staff members were working at the plant when the explosions began. At least nine people were injured, four of them critically. Three of the critical patients were admitted to Orlando Regional Medical Center's Burn Unit.  Burn Unit Director Dr. Howard Smith would not say whether any of the Blue Rhino patients suffered third degree burns, but such a burn would require skin grafts.

“That’s what we’re worried about may be required for these patients, that’s what we will have to see depending on each patient and what areas are injured,” he says. The fourth critical patient was taken to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, but Shands would not say whether that patient was being treated for burns.

Nearby residents who were evacuated overnight were allowed to return early this morning. Officials report no homes were damaged.

Keith said the state fire marshal will officially determine the cause of the blaze.

WMFE's Alicia Mandigo contributed to this story.


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