Fire at Marshfield propane plant was big enough to be picked up by satellite images, but could have been worse

Published: May. 14, 2021 at 10:09 PM CDT|Updated: May. 14, 2021 at 10:10 PM CDT
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MARSHFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - It was a frightening blaze billowing black smoke so high that communities all across the Ozark region could see it and the National Weather Service said its satellites even detected the hot spot in Marshfield from space.

On Friday Michael Taylor, the Fire Chief for the Marshfield Protection District, said investigators are still trying to find out the cause of the fire at the Kosan Crisplant Plant the night before that caused an evacuation of residents who lived in a two-block area around the propane tank facility.

“My investigators are on-site,” Taylor said. “Then we’ve got the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline Division, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the state fire marshal that are all investigating. We believe it to be an accidental in nature at this point but as to the exact cause we’re still investigating.”

The fire was reported just before 5 p.m. on Thursday. Marshfield’s No. 1 fire station is just a block from the propane plant and the Webster County 911 dispatch center is next door to the fire station so this one hit close to home.

“So this was something that was high on our priority list to monitor that situation and be prepared to move our operation if we needed to,” Taylor said. “Luckily we never had to evacuate our dispatch but it could have changed very easily where something would have had to be done differently.”

Marshfield’s firefighters were joined by those from Lebanon, Lebanon Rural Fire, Niangua Fire Protection District, Strafford Fire Protection District, Seymour and the Southern Webster County Fire Protection District in trying to contain one of the more dangerous types of emergencies.

“Propane gas can be unpredictable and reacts very violently and quickly. We had an estimated 10,000 portable 20-pound tanks on fire,” Taylor said. “About 200 of those were being launched up the air 100-feet or better and creating a hazard for us and the community and citizens in their homes so immediate action was taken to evacuate those in a two-block radius. Luckily with the assistance of their suppression system we were able to keep the fire from getting really inside their plant. The majority of damage is on the exterior of the building and the piles of tanks that were out front.”

And while the fire did take out a pair of 1,000-gallon tanks behind the building, things could have been a lot worse.

“There was also a 33,000-gallon tank that was back there and it did get enough heat to discolor (the tank) but it didn’t explode and that was the tank that had our concern,” Taylor said. “If it did go it would have caused damage over a very large area.”

As it turned out no firefighters or nearby residents were hurt. But a plant employee was taken to a Springfield hospital with burn injuries. His condition was not made public.

The industrial park where the plant is located is surrounded by residential houses and the exploding propane tanks made for a scary evening, especially for those who were evacuated.

“We’re hearing noises like sonic booms but there was no rhyme or reason to it so all the neighbors went outside on the street and saw all the smoke,” said Nancy Johnson, who lives about a quarter-mile away. “About 20 minutes they came and told us to evacuate because of that big tank. And if that had happened, our houses would have probably been toothpicks.”

Johnson and her neighbor Lisa Cantrell were walking by the plant on Friday as one of the many residents who came by to survey the damage. Johnson even found a burned piece of medal from the plant several hundred yards away up against the tree and took it as a souvenir.

Johnson admitted that she was more paranoid now about the safety of the area she lived in but gave no thought to moving.

“It’s a good walking area,” she said. “A lot of wildlife. Very wild as of last night.”

“I didn’t know there was even a propane place in Marshfield let alone a mile away from where I live,” said Emily Chaffin, whose house was outside the evacuation area but close enough to be shook up by the sudden explosions. “I was playing outside in the yard with my daughter and my fiance and we just talking and all of a sudden we hear, ‘BOOM’! Then more and more explosions until we saw the smoke and thought a house was on fire. The smoke you could see for miles. It was black and you could smell it. It was a bad smell.”

Chaffin too thinks the scary experience will be something she remembers for a long time.

“Last night when I went to bed I just knew I’d be up 20 times wondering if something else is going to explode now.”

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