August 2, 2011

2 hurt, 1 dead in Butler County propane explosions; most evacuees allowed home

A series of propane explosions in Butler County injured three people — one of them critically — and prompted authorities to evacuate residents from homes more than a square mile from the blast site Tuesday. One of the three has died, a hospital spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Three people were injured Tuesday — one critically — in a series of propane explosions in Butler County. One of the three has died, a hospital spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Dozens of homes around Global Propane, 13323 SW Butler Road, were evacuated as 50 firefighters worked to control the blaze.

Butler County emergency management director Jim Schmidt said the cause of the explosion, which occurred shortly after 2 p.m., had not been determined.

"One employee said there was a whoosh, a fire, and that's all he remembers," he said.

Most of those who were evacuated were allowed to return Tuesday evening. A one-mile stretch of Butler Road — from Southwest 130th to Southwest 140th — remained closed Tuesday night, and residents living along that stretch were unable to return home.

A Butler County dispatcher said it was not clear how long the road would remain closed.

Schmidt said the explosions touched off a large grass fire that damaged or destroyed three nearby homes.

He said the firefighters' chief concern was a 16,000-gallon tank that did not explode.

Schmidt said there are no fire hydrants within a mile of the plant, which is between Andover and Rose Hill, so water had to be trucked to the scene. He said tanker trucks from as far away as the Cowley County town of Atlanta responded to the alarm.

Three men, all employees of the company, were taken to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis for treatment of burns.

Along with the critically injured victim, one man was in serious condition according to a spokeswoman for the hospital. They were being treated at the Via Christi Regional Burn Center at the St. Francis campus. A hospital spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday that one of the victims has died.

The third man was treated and released.

Authorities evacuated residents within a mile of the fire and closed roads within two miles.

The initial evacuation zone was bounded by Southwest Prairie Creek on the east, 159th Street on the west, Southwest 140th on the south and Southwest 130th on the north, said Charlene Miller, assistant director of emergency management for Butler County.

Evacuation shelters for those who were forced from their homes were set up at Andover United Methodist Church, Faith Baptist Church in Andover, and the Butler County Fire District 3 station in Rose Hill.

Andover resident Janice Go, 45, took her two children — Caroline, 14, and Jonathan, 16 — and a 10-week old puppy to the Red Cross shelter set up at the Andover United Methodist.

Her home is less than a mile from the explosion.

"It was close enough to make you worry about whether is was actually going to spread over to the neighborhood," Go said.

The family was driving home from a shopping trip when Go said she saw smoke. She turned into her neighborhood as authorities were setting up road barricades, she said.

Within 30 minutes of arriving home, she said, a sheriff's officer told the family to evacuate.

"We were trying to find the dog, and they were wanting us to leave right away," she said.

The family collected photographs, DVDs, laptops and the dog — irreplaceable belongings, Go said — before heading to the shelter at 3:45 p.m.

"Hopefully they will be able to contain that fire pretty quickly, and everybody will be able to go home," she said.

Red Cross spokesman James Williams said the shelter would remain open overnight if needed.

"We are going to be here as long as needed," he said.

Andover's National Night Out activities were postponed because of the explosion and fire, said Jennifer McCausland, assistant city administrator.

Details on when the event will take place will be released later, she said.

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