Blue Rhino propane plant resumes operation after explosions

By Mike DeForest, Reporter, mdeforest@clickorlando.com
Published On: Nov 20 2013 05:43:36 PM EST
Updated On: Nov 20 2013 06:31:18 PM EST

Stacks of propane cylinders used for backyard barbecue grills have returned to the Blue Rhino propane plant in Tavares, which was rocked by explosions in July when a fire broke out in the storage yard.

TAVARES, Fla. -

Stacks of propane cylinders used for backyard barbecue grills have returned to the Blue Rhino propane plant in Tavares, which was rocked by explosions in July when a fire broke out in the storage yard.

Blue Rhino employees are still not refurbishing and refilling the 20-pound tanks at the plant off County Road 448. However, the company recently began using facility as a distribution center, storing pallets of propane cylinders filled at other locations, as well as stacking used tanks that still contain a potentially explosive amount of fuel. On Wednesday, Local 6 counted more than 40,000 cylinders on the property.

"Everything sure as hell to me looks exactly the same. So that's supposed to make me feel better?" asks Duane Siebert. His business, tonerrefills.com, was damaged by flying propane cylinders the night of the explosions. The sight of new propane tanks stacked feet from his warehouse makes him nervous.

"It drives you nuts if you think about it," said Siebert. "Every noise you hear, you now pay attention to."

Siebert was hoping Blue Rhino would make significant safety improvements to the plant before resuming operations. When asked about any changes, company spokesman Scott Brockelmeyer told Local 6, "The Blue Rhino tanks at our facility in Tavares, Florida, continue to be stored according to National Fire Protection Association guidelines."

Siebert believes that is not enough. "Were you following all the rules when the place blew up?" he asks. "Because if you were, those rules obviously didn't work, did they?"

Eight people were injured in the blast, including several who suffered critical burns. All have been released from the hospital.

Investigators with the state fire marshal's office said they must still speak with one additional witness before completing their final report outlining the cause of the fire. Those investigators have spent time examining a forklift, which some have speculated may have accidentally ignited some propane.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is conducting its own investigation into any workplace safety violations.

Blue Rhino officials said they do not know when they will resume full operations at the Tavares plant.

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