An accidental ignition source hit an area full of mostly empty propane cylinders and the ensuing fire set off hundreds of propane explosions at an oil distributor in Sikeston, MO, Monday.
The investigation is complete and there is no reason to believe that it was suspicious, said Sikeston Department of Public Safety (DPS) Chief Drew Juden.
“It started in the propane recycling area which is where they pull propane out of containers that have been turned back in that have a small percentage of propane still in them,” Juden said. “They pull the propane out of those cylinders. In that process, that area becomes a very rich environment with fuel, with product. There was an ignition source, we are not sure what the ignition source was, and that’s what caused the initial fire.
“We have surmised that it was probably static electricity, but we are not sure about that either,” he said. “There was no other plausible ignition sources that we could find in the area.”
Crews worked through the night to put out flare ups at Santie Wholesale Oil Company.
Juden said representatives from DPS, the Fire Marshal, Missouri Propane Safety Commission, ATF, and insurance agents were on the scene Tuesday.
“There is a hazmat contractor on scene. They are cleaning up the hazardous materials, the oil and other products that spilled out,” he said. “Once that is done, then the business will be turned back over to the owner and hopefully they will rebuild and we will go on about our day.”
Juden said investigators had to wait for the smoldering fire to cool down. Investigators began working on Tuesday afternoon to determine the initial cause. They talked to witnesses about what happened.
Captain Jim McMillen with Sikeston DPS says hundreds of those propane cylinders exploded in the fire.
“When we got there, I mean the fire has engulfed in the 20-pound cylinders and there were numerous cylinders in that area that the fire was around,” McMillen said. “They hit that temperature point to a BLEVE (a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion) They exploded and they were shooting across the fire grounds, some hundreds of feet in the air, some shooting horizontal. And we had to back up our firefighters, back up our command and just try to get to a safe area.”
There was a vessel containing 15,000 gallons of propane on the property that fire crews were worried about, but that did not explode. At the time, authorities asked everyone to stay at least a half mile away from the location.
Santie Wholesale Oil is a Petroleum Bulk Station. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, bulk stations provide the wholesale distribution of crude petroleum and petroleum products, including liquefied petroleum gas, from bulk liquid storage facilities.
According to the company’s website, Santie Oil is an authorized distributor for Chevron/Texaco, Castrol Industrial Metalworking fluids; Castrol Performance Lubes, Purus Products, Service Pro products & Royal Purple.