Propane tanks are still burning, a day after a massive gas plant explosion in Lake County.
Tavares firefighters are using controlled burns to get rid of any of the explosive propane, that may still be coating the huge tanks.
Investigators are looking at possible human error, equipment failure or a combination of both, but a federal investigators are still looking into the exact cause of Monday night's explosion.
There is a leak in one of the large 90,000-pound cylinders at the plant on CR 448 in Tavares. Firefighters are currently dousing the cylinder with water.
The leak was discovered Tuesday morning after Monday night's explosions from the plant shook the homes of people all over Lake County, including the Tavares fire chief.
“It sounded like a car hit our house, and then my wife said 'you better come up here and look at this.' We looked out are window and could see the glow and it was pulsating like fireworks, and I knew at that moment that’s where Blue Rhino was,” said Fire Chief Richard Keith.
Blue Rhino is a propane plant that refurbishes and fills 20-pound propane canisters frequently used for gas barbecue grills.
Tuesday morning, an estimated 53,000 of those exploded canisters were spread all over the Tavares plant.
Twenty-four employees were inside when the fire started late Monday night.
“According to the Blue Rhino management, everyone who was scheduled to work, has been accounted for,” said Lt. John Herrell from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
Eight people were hospitalized, but that was still welcome news compared to the initial panic when no one knew where the other employees were.
“I thought it was going to be for the worst, that it was going to be a search and rescue mission in the morning,” Tavares Mayor Robert Wolfe said.
Instead, the focus is on figuring out exactly what caused the fire and whether safety protocols were followed.
A fire suppression system meant to protect three 90,000-pound tanks didn’t work. But fortunately, the tanks did not ignite.
“We think the last person out is supposed to flip the switch to start those water flows,” Keith said. “I don’t blame them I wouldn’t have been there either. I would have been heading out this way.”
The canisters are filled on an assembly line. We know someone hit the line’s emergency stop.
The initial fire investigation revealed it could have been an equipment failure and human error, but investigators don't suspect foul play.
Everyone within a half-mile radius of the explosion was evacuated for several hours.
The flame and smoke could be seen in Apopka in Orange County and Webster in Sumter County. During a news conference, Keith said he has never seen anything like this in his 36 years of service.
A man who is building a home behind the plant said a canister came crashing through his roof. He said he was about to move into the residence and doesn't have insurance yet on the property.
Eight employees at the Blue Rhino plant were injured in the explosion.
Three men were taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center in critical condition, which is a level one trauma center, and are being treated for burns.
One of the men arrived around 4 a.m. Tuesday. He was first treated at Florida Hospital Waterman, which is not far away from the plant, but then transferred by ambulance to ORMC.
Two others were treated and released from Florida Hospital Waterman.
A worker who was transported to Shands Hospital in Gainesville is said to be in critical condition. Another worker was also taken to Ocala Regional Medical Center.
“My heart and my prayers go out to those families," Gov. Rick Scott said during a stop Tuesday in Bunnell. "We've got to make sure we don't let this happen again so we'll look to see what happened there. But when stuff like this happens you always have to step back and be very appreciative of your family but also make sure it doesn't happen again.”
According to Scott Brockelmeyer, a spokesman for Ferrellgas, which is the parent company of Blue Rhino, the plant received a violation from OSHA in 2011.
He said the violation was due to an air nozzle that had a missing component.
The spokesman said Ferrellgas is cooperating with the investigation.
Blue Rhino has nine of these plants throughout the country. The plants refurbish propane tanks for gas grills and sends them back out to stores.
In an interview in North Carolina, Chris Hartley, the vice president of marketing for Blue Rhino says they are sending in trucks and propane tanks from other parts of the country.
"We should be back up and running as normal really in most of the area," he said. "As a matter of fact, the disruptions we anticipate will only be in the Orlando area, and as early as tomorrow with very little difficulty. So people can keep grilling with confidence."