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Published: Tuesday, 5/8/2007

Crews resume battling Bedford Twp. propane fire; evacuation area reduced

BY JANE SCHMUCKER,
CHRISTINA HALL AND JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

About 30 firefighters from four departments remained on the scene late tonight after returning to battle a propane fire in Bedford Township, Michigan, that broke out this afternoon. They had evacuated earlier this afternoon for three hours for fear of their safety and additional explosions.

Authorities also have lifted an evacuation - with the exception of Lavoy Road - of people and businesses within 1 miles of Reliance Propane at 180 Lavoy Rd., near Telegraph Road. A shelter for those people had been set up at the Erie Township fire station.

Fire officials do not know how the fire stared at Reliance Propane. But they know it began in a pumping station at the business.

One person was injured and treated at the scene for injuries, officials said. Earlier, authorities believed additional people were injured.

Late this afternoon, authorities began evacuating people and businesses within 1 miles of the propane business.

About 15 people arrived at a shelter and ate hamburgers supplied by a local fast food restaurant. They started leaving the shelter just after 6:30 p.m.

The Monroe County Sheriff s office said one tank may have caught fire, which triggered an ensuing explosion and fires.

Heavy black smoke could be seen for miles. Small pieces of metal debris shot into the sky as the propane tanks erupted into an orange ball of fire. At least one truck near the tanks was set ablaze.

Thomas Jaksetic, acting battalion chief with the Toledo Fire Department, said a pump house was on fire when crews pulled up to Reliance Propane. Firefighters' immediate concerns were 30,000-pound propane tanks and 20,000-pound oil tanks that were in front of the building.

But those did not catch fire.

There also were 500-pound residential tanks, used for heating homes, that did not explode because of wind shifts, Chief Jaksetic said.

The loud explosions heard around the area were multiple 20-pound propane canisters, those used for home grills, igniting.

Steven Lewis, a firefighter with the Toledo Fire Department, examines the blaze at Reliance Propane in Bedford Township, Michigan. Steven Lewis, a firefighter with the Toledo Fire Department, examines the blaze at Reliance Propane in Bedford Township, Michigan.
JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge

Dan Smelser, 54, of Toledo, is a farm employee who was working in the field right near the plant when the blaze began. His company, Morrin Farms, rents the land around the propane plant off Lavoy Road.

At 2:15 p.m., he said, he saw white smoke in the air and then flames shot up into the air about 8 to 10 feet.

He said plant workers at Reliance began running from the plant and jumped into cars. One of the workers picked him up in his vehicle.

The place is going to blow up, he recalled one of those workers telling him at the scene.

He later returned to the scene to try and retrieve a tractor. While he arrived, he found dozens of pieces of propane tank littering the farm field.

Nick Contreras of Toledo said he was evacuated after 4 p.m. from Three D Machining, 7020 South Telegraph Rd. But Mr. Contreras reported hearing explosions all afternoon.

At first, he said, he thought something fell in the business where he was working. He likened the sound to a train coming through the area.

A company representative said the Lavoy Road facility is a bulk plant that is used for production purposes.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com



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