The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

May 13, 2013

Explosions, fire reported at W.Va. gas plant

POCA — Two workers were injured Monday when highly flammable gas used in welding exploded at a West Virginia industrial site, officials say.

Fire crews were sent at about 3:20 p.m. to Airgas, a distributor of specialty gases in Poca, outside of Charleston. Putnam County emergency management director Frank Chapman said the explosion involved about 50 tanks of acetylene that were at Airgas waiting to be refilled. What caused the tanks to explode wasn’t known.

Chad Jones, a firefighter with the Bancroft Volunteer Fire Department, said four cylinders continued to burn Monday evening and that crews were letting them “burn out.” They were dousing other tanks with water to keep them from exploding, said Jones, whose station was one of several to respond to the scene.

The tanks were being stored in a bay behind the facility. Jones said after the first tank exploded, “it was like a chain reaction,” with fireballs shooting 100 to 150 feet in the air. A nearby business evacuated, and windows were shattered in the back of the Airgas plant, Jones said.

Doug Barker, chief financial officer at nearby Clark Truck Parts, told The Associated Press over the phone that “we felt our building shake like it’s never come close to shaking before from a storm or anything. It was enough to make us run.”

Barker said he and another company official bolted from their offices, and he ran to the road and saw dark smoke in the air to the east. Soon afterward they heard several smaller explosions and saw fire, he said. Barker also saw three or four ambulances speed by and heard a lot of sirens.

Clark Truck Parts is about a half-mile from Airgas, Barker said. He said there are some homes between the two industrial sites.

Dave Castro, manager of the TransWood trucking company about a quarter-mile from Airgas, said he also felt his building shake.

“It felt like a truck ran into the building,” he said.

He said he drove toward Airgas to check on his wife, who works at another company nearby, and could see the back of the plant on fire. He said the burning area was about the size of a house, and every 15 seconds or so a black ball of smoke would rise from a tank or drum “and explode like a firework.”

Acetylene is used in welding canisters. Airgas, which calls itself the largest U.S. supplier of industrial, medical and special gases, also lists on its website propane, often used in backyard grills; hydrogen; helium; and nitrous oxide, or the “laughing gas” used during certain dental procedures.

Company spokesman Doug Sherman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Jones said the company was sending a hazmat crew from Kentucky. A U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration crew was at the scene.

“It’s a hazardous job they do every day,” Jones said of the workers who handle the gases. “Something went wrong today.”

Chapman said the explosion involved residue of the gas left in the tanks. He said the blast would have been much worse if the tanks were filled. He said both workers suffered second- and third-degree burns.

Chapman said the cause of the explosion is being investigated and that the blasts and fire were the first problem he knows to be reported at Airgas.

The injured workers were taken to Cabell Huntington Hospital for treatment. A hospital official did not know their conditions.

Airgas Inc. is based in Radnor, Pa., and has more than 15,000 employees at 1,110 locations including retail stores, gas fill plants and distribution centers, according to Hoover’s database on companies. It is the largest distributor of packaged gases in the U.S., with a 25 percent market share and with sales of nearly $5 billion in fiscal 2012.

1
Text Only
West Virginia
  • State to get $5.6 million for laid-off miners

    West Virginia will receive an additional $5.6 million in federal grants to help coal workers affected by mine closures and layoffs.
    Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced Thursday that WorkForce West Virginia will receive National Emergency grants through 2016 for displaced miners. The state received $1.8 million in 2012.

    April 25, 2014

  • Symptoms match with spilled chemical

    For two weeks following a January chemical spill into the public water supply, hundreds of West Virginians examined in emergency rooms had ailments consistent with exposure to the chemical, health officials said Wednesday.
    Federal toxic substance experts and the state Bureau for Public Health stopped short of saying that their analysis determined without a doubt that patients’ problems stemmed from chemical contact.

    April 24, 2014

  • West Virginia chemical safe level following spill based on two weeks

    When federal officials decided what chemical levels West Virginians could safely consume in water tainted by a January spill, their standard assumed people would be exposed for two weeks, not 100-plus days.

    April 23, 2014

  • Some state Democrats flip to GOP

    As Republicans rally for more control in West Virginia’s long-time Democratic Legislature, a few Democrats have jumped ship to the GOP and are challenging former colleagues in midterm races.
    Republicans face their biggest election opportunity in decades in the House of Delegates, where a four-seat swing would put them in power for the first time in 85 years.

    April 20, 2014

  • Gee’s move could save Ohio State millions

    Ohio State University expects to save millions of dollars because former president Gordon Gee is giving up part of his retirement package as he becomes president of West Virginia University for the second time.

    April 19, 2014

  • W.Va. AG court filings: Dismiss gun law question

    The attorney general says a court challenge should be dismissed over whether West Virginians can bring guns to city recreational facilities that hold school events.
    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s filings Thursday argue the city of Charleston shouldn’t receive court guidance on how to implement a state gun law.

    April 18, 2014

  • Energy-state Dems split from Obama

    Scrapping to keep a West Virginia Senate seat Democratic in a state that’s sprinted to the right, Natalie Tennant is counting on her allegiance to the coal industry to separate herself from an unpopular President Barack Obama.
    Her approach reflects common Democratic strategy and tactics this midterm election year in energy-producing states that lean Republican: Sen. Mary Landrieu is vying for a fourth term representing Louisiana; Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is running for re-election for the first time; and Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes wants to replace Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

    April 17, 2014

  • Official: $2M in chemical spill costs reimbursable

    Public agencies and nonprofits that helped after a Jan. 9 chemical leak into the water supply could receive $2 million in reimbursements for their emergency work, a West Virginia homeland security official said.
    Federal and state emergency officials briefed fire departments, paramedics and other government groups Wednesday on how to recoup costs.

    April 17, 2014

  • Manchin urges mines to speak out for coal

    The Democratic senator leading the battle against the White House’s strategy to fight climate change urged the mining industry on Tuesday to speak out about coal’s role in providing affordable, reliable electricity to the country to help combat strict new emissions rules for coal-fired power plants.

    April 16, 2014

  • Many schools already meet new mandate for breakfast

    Many West Virginia public schools have changed the way they serve breakfast to students ahead of a requirement that goes into effect in September.

    April 14, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads