Firefighters walk through a sea of propane cylinders Tuesday, July 30, 2013, after a series of explosions rocked a propane gas plant in Tavares, Fla. (John Raoux/AP)

Florida Propane Plant Explosion Injures 9

A fire caused explosions at a propane gas plant in central Florida that lasted through the night.

Firefighters walk through a sea of propane cylinders Tuesday, July 30, 2013, after a series of explosions rocked a propane gas plant in Tavares, Fla. (John Raoux/AP)

Firefighters walk through a sea of propane cylinders Tuesday, July 30, 2013, after a series of explosions rocked a propane gas plant in Tavares, Fla.

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Nine people are injured, at least five of them critically, after a fire at a propane gas plant in central Florida Monday night set off a chain of explosions that continued for several hours into early Tuesday morning.

The fire broke out around 10:30 p.m. at the Blue Rhino plant in Tavares, a city about 41 miles northwest of Orlando. The company refills propane tanks that are typically used for barbecues or other outdoor activities.

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At the time of the explosion, Lake County Sheriff's Office spokesman John Herrell said at a news conference that there were about 53,000 20-gallon tanks and 24 to 26 workers at the plant for an overnight shift.

 

Tavares Fire Chief Richard Keith told the Orlando Sentinel that the fire came from one of those tanks, but that firefighters had to let the fire burn itself out because the flames were so severe. There were also three larger tanks at the plant, which hold 90,000 pounds of propane, that did not explode in the fire.

Herrell said that initially, 15 people were unaccounted for, but by early Tuesday morning all workers were located.

"The employees were able to escape and scatter away because the explosion was not in their part of the building," Herrell said, according to local NBC affiliate WESH.

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Initially, authorities said eight people were injured and at least three were flown to a nearby hospital with critical burns, WESH reported. But as of Tuesday morning, the Orlando Sentinel reported that paramedics treated nine people in total and that five are now in critical condition.

"It's very, very dramatic. It's surreal," Herrell said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families."

The state fire marshal is investigating the incident, but Keith said the explosion was likely caused by human error or some sort of equipment failure.

Blue Rhino was fined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2011 because of a "serious" safety violation that involved its tools and equipment, CNN reported.

Following the explosion, authorities evacuated the surrounding neighborhood within half a mile of the plant, but allowed the residents to return to their homes by 3 a.m. Tuesday.

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Ashley McCormick told ABC News that she could see the explosions from seven miles away and that the flames were "humongous."

"You could hear the explosions, just one after another and then after it would explode, a fireball would shoot up into the sky," McCormick said.

Mariah Ryle, who lives about a quarter of a mile from the plant, told WFTV that she was asleep when the first explosion occurred.

"It woke me up after a dead sleep. The whole house shook and it was just explosion after explosion," Ryle said. "The fire was actually so tall that I walked out my front door and just saw, like my neighbors across the street, I saw it over their roof."

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