Propane Explosion Damages Manufacturing Facility

Background

Firefighters responded to a five-alarm fire after a massive explosion which caused damage to the manufacturing facility about the size of two football fields and shook homes more than 15 miles away. Numerous fatalities and injuries resulted from the explosion.  The facility complex covered 61 acres, with 1.5 million square feet of buildings. The building that exploded was used for storage of component parts used in the manufacturing process. People claimed to have smelled propane prior to the explosion which may have come from and underground pipeline. 

Services Provided

Rimkus was retained to determine the origin and cause of the fire and explosion.  During the course of our investigation we inspected the property, participated in testing and excavation of the underground lines, and interviewed several of the plant employees. We also reviewed engineering documents and drawings related to the pipeline, plant engineering procedures related to propane system start-up and shut-down, plant operations logs, the incident report from the local fire department, as well as codes and standards related to propane gas lines and corrosion protection requirements for pipe lines.

We arrived at the following opinions after completing our investigation.

  • The explosion was caused by propane that leaked from an underground line accumulating under one of the buildings.
  • The liquid propane pipeline was not properly installed due to the use of inadequate back-fill around the buried pipe and possibly inadequate preparation of the pipe before and during installation.

National Practice Leaders

Vice President, Fire Division