Fire Chief: Propane Explosion Could Have Been 'Much Worse'

By: Stephanie Diffin Email
By: Stephanie Diffin Email

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August 12, 2011

Authorities say a broken propane container fitting caused last week's deadly explosion in Butler County. They're also releasing new information on how much worse the situation could have been.

The fire engulfed an 18,000 gallon propane tank, which had potential to create a fireball more than 1/8 mile in diameter and send the several ton tank about 3/4 mile away.

The explosion happened Tuesday, August 2nd. Police evacuated residents from a four square mile area because they knew what many residents didn't at that point -- that a catastrophe was likely about to happen.

"This could have been so much worse," said Rose Hill Fire Chief James Woydziak.

It could, and should, have been a BLEVE, or boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion, according to experts. If the tank would have exploded, it would have devastated a much larger area than what was impacted. You can view a demonstration of a BLEVE by CLICKING HERE.

"You know they talk about the perfect storm, this one was it. The damaged piping was putting the flames right on the tank," said Woydziak.

The piping leading up to the tank was damaged, fire officials say, after a smaller container exploded and hit it. This reportedly happened after a Global Propane employee, 40-year-old Jeffrey Burnham, was filling up a smaller tank and the fitting between the hose and the container broke. Under pressure, the hose then apparently began whipping around and somehow sparked a fire, setting off dozens of other explosions and fatally burning Burnham.

"We don't know what caused that fitting to break. We just don't know. There's been a lot of speculation but the only person that could tell us more, can't tell us anymore," said Woydziak.

But who did provide first hand accounts were the other two Global Propane employees on scene. They're two men we've now learned received injuries themselves in trying to save their coworker.

Emergency responders on scene last Tuesday have met as the investigation wrapped up. They say proper protocol was followed, but they say a situation like this one will always teach emergency crews how to handle disasters better.

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