Three hurt in plant explosion

DUNHAM TWP.-An explosion at an industrial cleaning business north of Belpre sent three employees to local hospitals with burn wounds and elicited the response of dozens of first responders to contain and secure the scene along Ohio 7 on Tuesday morning.

The explosion occurred at Enviro-Tank Clean Inc. shortly before 9 a.m. as employees were transferring “flammable material waste” from one source to another, said Little Hocking Fire Chief and incident commander Mike Chevalier. Gasoline and water were being transferred, but it is still unclear what ignited the materials, added Chevalier.

“There were three employees in the direct area (of the explosion). There were other personnel on site that were not in that direct area,” he said.

Of the three injured, two were moderately burned and one was severely burned, said Chevalier.

Kevin S. McClain, 32, of Ravenswood, W.Va. suffered severe burns and was airlifted from Camden Clark Medical Center to Cabell Huntington Hospital’s Burn Intensive Care Unit, according to a release from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. He was in critical condition as of Tuesday evening, according to a nursing supervisor there.

Two Belpre men suffered less serious injuries and were treated and released from area hospitals Tuesday.

Justin A. Flesher, 33, of Briggs Hill Road, suffered burns on his left arm. He was treated and released from Marietta Memorial Hospital.

Fred E. Johnston, 53, of Calder Ridge Road, was treated and released from Camden Clark Medical Center. Johnston was burned on his face, hair, arms and chest, according to the release.

The explosion rattled the windows of nearby residences and businesses and sent a plume of fire and smoke into the muggy morning air.

Approximately 200 yards away from the explosion, at business Skyline Steel, all the employees felt the shock caused by the explosion, said Skyline employee Alicia Walker.

“It felt like a bang, a shaking,” she said.

Skyline employee Tim Carpenter said the explosion caused the windows to rattle. At first, Carpenter thought something in-house had caused the shaking.

“When you set down a coil it will make a thud,” said Carpenter, referring to the large rolled sheets of steel the company handles. “I thought somebody dropped a coil here.”

Carpenter went outside to see a small fire and a large funnel of smoke at Enviro-Tank.

Enviro-Tank was also the site of a small fire in 2011 when a chimney pipe overheated. That fire caused little structural damage and no injuries.

Tuesday’s fire caused major structural damage, Chevalier speculated.

The exterior of the metal wall on the north side of the explosion site was badly scorched, a combination of gray soot and black burns.

Enviro-Tank Clean Vice President Ray Lutes said McClain is an employee of BBU Services of West Virginia, a Kenna-based environmental construction contractor. The gasoline-water mixture was being unloaded from a BBU truck, said Lutes.

The gasoline-water mix is a common substance for them to treat, he said. He did not immediately know from where the material came, but said it was likely from the petroleum industry, perhaps a gas station.

The remaining Enviro-Tank employees-around a dozen-waited in the front lawn of Skyline Steel as the incident was contained. Employees were not permitted to talk about the incident, said Lutes.

Crews from Little Hocking Volunteer Fire, Warren Volunteer Fire, Dunham Volunteer Fire, Belpre Volunteer Fire, and Marietta Fire departments quickly contained the initial blaze and worked through the afternoon cleaning up water, said Chevalier.

The Marietta Fire Department sent a hazardous materials team to the plant as a precaution, Marietta Fire Chief C.W. Durham said. No hazardous materials escaped the site and there was no threat posed to the surrounding communities, he said.

Durham said Washington County Emergency Management Agency Director Jeff Lauer was feeding him information on what types of chemicals were stored at the plant.

According to the company’s annual filing with the State Emergency Response Commission, it sometimes stores sulfuric, sodium hydroxide, hydrogen peroxide, aluminum sulfate, hydrochloric acid, potassium permanganate, sodium hypochlorite, ferric chloride, sodium trithiocarbonate and sodium bisulfite on site.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Ohio State Highway Patrol helped with traffic control on Ohio 7, the southbound lanes of which was temporarily shut down between Veto Road and the site of the accident. The southbound lanes were entirely closed for approximately 20 minutes following the accident, and the outer lane was closed until approximately 10:45 a.m., according to Sgt. Michael Seabolt with the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

The road closing was a precautionary measure, said Chief Deputy Mark Warden of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

“Until you’ve got site information on the potential of any secondary explosions, we close it…We even contacted the railroad company and held up a train,” he said.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office will assist the state fire marshal’s office with its investigation into the explosion, said Warden. A state fire marshal, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and representatives from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were on scene Tuesday afternoon, he added.

The fire marshal’s office completed its investigation Tuesday, but the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration had people on scene until about 4:30 p.m., Lutes said. The company will also conduct its own investigation, he said, as will BBU, co-owner David Ray said.

“Everybody’s just in shock more than anything,” Lutes said. “We’ve been in operation since 1990, and we’ve never had an explosion.”

The plant will be back up and running today, he said.

“We’re able to operate full steam on everything except the area where the explosion took place,” Lutes said.

Evan Bevins contributed.