Florida Propane Plant Explodes, Forcing Evacuations and Injuring Eight

The first round of explosions in Florida's Lake County sounded like "firecrackers," nearby residents tell the AP, and petered out by midnight last night. But 15 minutes later, the real show started. That's when a fire at the Blue Rhino Propane Factory in Tavares reached pallets full of gas canisters.

"I thought we were being bombed," nearby resident Debbie Stivender tells the AP. Click through for video.

Although up to 26 workers were in the factory when the fire ignited, no one was killed by the huge explosion, police say this morning. Residents within a one-mile radius of the plant were evacuated but allowed to return home after 2 a.m.

Firefighters initially reported that up to 15 workers were missing in the blaze, but by 7 a.m., everyone was accounted for. Eight people were injured in the blast and taken to local hospitals.

Officials still aren't sure what ignited the fire, but Richard Keith, Tavares' fire chief, told reporters this morning that "it was probably a human or equipment error."

The plant refurbishes old propane tanks and resells them. More than 50,000 of the 20-gallon tanks were stored at the factory, and most of them caught fire overnight. Fortunately, three larger tanks with nearly 100,000 gallons each never ignited.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink