Eight people were injured in an explosion Tuesday afternoon after a tank leaked and ignited a fire at a propane distribution company near Conroe.
Montgomery County firefighters responded to AmeriGas at 10985 FM 1485 near Waukegan Road after an explosion was reported about noon, according to a dispatcher at the sheriff's office.
Two of the injured were flown via Life Flight to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in critical condition. Six others were transported by ambulance to Conroe Regional Medical Center and Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital, according to the Montgomery County Fire Marshal's Office.
The resulting flash fire was brought under control in about 15 minutes.
Montgomery County Fire Marshal Jimmy Williams said workers were filling propane tanks when one of the tanks began to leak and ignited, sparking about five flash fires that burned several trees and some grass on the property. The explosion occurred in a cylinder exchange area where propane tanks are filled for use in RVs and boats, for home heating and outdoor barbecues.
Valve out of reach
Firefighters were battling the grass fire when they began to see the injured workers, many of whom fled the area after the blast.
Several workers witnessed the leak but could not reach the shutoff valve before it ignited, possibly from static electricity or an equipment spark, said Battalion Chief Albert Martinez of the Caney Creek Fire Department.
Steve Wilson, an employee at the AmeriGas facility, had returned from an errand when he saw helicopters hovering above. He was terrified because his 19-year-old grandson, Nathan Evans, was inside. Wilson had helped Evans get a job there three months ago.
Wilson rushed in and found his grandson. "Not one hair was burned, and he was 15 feet from the explosion," Wilson said.
Martinez said the explosion would have been worse had it occurred in an indoor area.
"It's not catastrophic," he said. "It was not a pressure buildup inside a building. That would have been bad. It was a vapor flash fire that occurred outdoors."
Burns, lung problems
The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the propane industry, has been notified of the incident, as has the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Most of the injured reportedly suffered burns; at least one complained of breathing problems, firefighters said.
Bill Katz, vice president at AmeriGas Propane in Valley Forge, Pa., said the company has a team on site investigating the cause of the blast. He could not speculate on what precipitated the incident. He said the company's main priority was to ensure their employees received medical attention and to stabilize the facility.
Katz declined to name the injured because of privacy issues.
On its website, AmeriGas describes itself as the nation's largest propane company, serving more than 2 million residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural and motor fuel propane customers from 1,200 locations in all 50 states.
There have been no previous violations at the Montgomery County plant, Martinez said.
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