Chris Lawrence UPDATE Putnam Co
Two men are being treated for burn injuries suffered after an explosion and fire in Putnam County on Monday afternoon.
Emergency officials said several canisters of acetylene exploded at about 3:30 p.m. at the Airgas facility in the community of Black Betsy.
The workers are being treated for first- and second-degree burns at Cabell Huntington Hospital.
Chad Jones, firefighter with the Bancroft Volunteer Fire Department, said once one canister ignited, the heat set off the rest of them in a chain reaction.
Emergency officials say workers were bleeding off what was left in the canisters in a bunker-type facility when something ignited the acetylene and it exploded. They believe about 50 canisters exploded in an area where 100 were stored.
Jones said it’s unclear what started the fire.
“Not sure exactly what was taking place,” said Jones. “OSHA’s on scene and they’ll do their investigation.”
The bleeding off process is a common occurrence at the plant when previously used canisters are returned to be refilled. Authorities say the canisters were not totally full of the gas when the explosion happened.
Firefighters remained on the scene Monday evening cooling the remaining containers with water.
Acetylene is the most common gas used for fueling cutting torches in the mining industry and in general industry.
The Airgas facility is located just off of Route 62 between Poca and Bancroft. Authorities reopened the highway at around 4:40 p.m.
Jones said as of Monday evening the situation was under control and was no longer being deemed as a threat to local residents.
Investigators with the state Fire Marshal’s Office had arrived on the scene before 4:15 p.m.
Airgas is a distributor of welding gases and supplies.
Along with its subsidiaries, the company claims to be one of the leading suppliers of industrial, medical and specialty gases in the United States.