A gas explosion occurred at the Airgas plant in the Black Betsy area of Putnam County just before 3:30 p.m. on Monday.
First responders said they transported two employees to Cabell-Huntington Hospital with first- and second-degree burn wounds. One man suffered burns to the face; the other to his arms. One other employee was working onsite at the time of the explosion. No other injuries have been reported.
Several fire departments responded to the explosion. Crews said they quelled the flames resulting from the explosions before 5 p.m. First responders shut down Route 62 for a few hours before reopening the road at approximately the same time.
The initial explosion happened in a storage bunker near the facility, according to Chad Jones with the Bancroft Volunteer Fire Department. That's where at least 50 cylinders of acetylene exploded inside the bin, causing several other explosions at Airgas. Jones said many of the canisters were empty or partially empty. The bin holds nearly 100 containers in all.
"I've been here 20 years and I don't think we've had an incident of this magnitude," Jones said.
He added that local fire departments visit the plant at least twice a year to make sure they're familiar with the layout and safety procedures. At this time, Jones emphasized that the surrounding areas are no longer at risk.
Acetylene is a hydrocarbon used for various purposes, including welding because of the extremely high temperature of the flame.
Several officials noted that mushroom clouds and fireballs shot up to 150 feet in the air from the ignited cylinders.
Airgas is the largest U.S. distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases, and hardgoods, such as welding equipment and supplies, according to its website.
The plant and the business nearby evacuated after the blast. Several neighbors did the same. People living along Route 62 said they heard the blast before they saw or smelled the gas.
"All I could think of was the explosion that happened in Sissonville and how badly it affected those houses, so it scared me. I don't know how bad it could get, so I just wanted to get out," said Brandi Taylor, who fled to Poca with her family members.
Her husband, Jason Taylor, said he worried about his two children the second he heard the explosion.
"The first thing that came through my mind was the kids just got off the [school] bus," Taylor said.
Investigators with the West Virginia Fire Marshal's Office started an initial investigation into what caused the blast; an official from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration arrived on scene shortly after 6 p.m. to conduct interviews.
Jones said a hazmat team from Bowling Green, Ky., where Airgas Mid America is based, was en route to the scene to assess how to handle the situation.
In April 2011, four Airgas subsidiaries in Massachusetts, Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania were four of approximately 14,600 companies identified as workplaces with the highest occupational injury and illness rates.
OSHA sent letters to the companies, urging action to remove hazards.
The investigation at the plant in Putnam County is still ongoing.
Check wowktv.com for the latest updates in this developing story.
According to Putnam County dispatch, an explosion occurred at Airgas near Black Betsy.
First responders say they have transported two employees to Cabell-Huntington Hospital with first and second degree burn wounds. No other injuries have been reported.
Multiple fire departments responded to the explosion. The fire that followed the explosions is under control.
Officials say 50 canisters of acetylene exploded inside a bunker, causing several other explosions at Airgas. Acetylene is a hydrocarbon used for various purposes, including welding because of the extremely high temperature of the flame.
According to Airgas' website, they are the largest U.S. distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases, and hardgoods, such as welding equipment and supplies.
We have a crew on the way to the scene, keep checking back for details.