Multiple explosions at a local propane plant sent two people to the UNC Chapel Hill Jaycee Burn Center and lead local emergency personnel to evacuate homes in the near-by area.
Reports of the explosions at the Rapid Xchange propane business at 6280 Hobbton Hwy., Clinton, came in Friday afternoon as black smoke could be seen billowing in the air from miles away.
Following the report of what was deemed a fire emergency by county officials, assistant county manager Susan Holder confirmed two injuries, employees of Rapid Xchange, who were both airlifted to the Burn Center in Chapel Hill with non-life threatening injuries.
Karen Kennedy, a resident who lives on Hobbton Highway, heard the explosions Friday afternoon. It was mistaken by family members as fireworks.
“After that you heard more,” she said about hearing two large explosions and watching emergency officials arrive. “People were pulling over. They got here as fast as possible.”
Traffic was diverted as officials closed U.S. 701 between King Road and Keener Road in both directions. Residents within a one-mile radius of the propane plant were evacuated, and the county opened an emergency shelter at L.C. Kerr School, 112 Kimbrough Road, Clinton for those with no other options for housing. Officials said it was set up to provide easy access to residents traveling from the area.
Principal Jennifer Pope began setting up the school’s gymnasium with assistance from the American Red Cross.
“That’s what we do here in Clinton City Schools,” Pope said. “We want to support our community and help them in any that we possibly can.”
Once the scene was cleared, allowing residents to return to their residences, the shelter was closed.
Sarah Bradshaw, director of Sampson County Department of Social Services, reported that the shelter was opened at 4 p.m., a few hours after the Sampson County E-911 Center received reports of multiple explosions.
“We’re here prepared to receive any residents that are being evacuated if they need to use this facility,” Bradshaw said.
Assistance was also provided to anyone with special needs at the Adult Day Care Center, 210 Fisher Drive, Clinton.
According to Holder, the evacuation was ordered as local firefighters worked to control the spreading of flames and keep the two 30,000 gallon LP tanks cool. In addition to the two larger tanks, the yard is filled with roughly 25,000 of the 20-pound cylinders.
Jerry Cashwell, Sampson County Fire Marshall, reported that the Regional Response Team from Fayetteville came to the site to conduct air monitoring. Shortly before 6 p.m. the area was cleared by the team and released to the Department of of Labor, Fire Marshall and State Bureau of Investigation for fire investigation. U.S. 701 is opened for residents to return home.
Once on scene, responding fire departments discovered a large fire in the tank storage yard with multiple 20 pound LP cylinders exploding in the vicinity. Fire departments who responded were Halls, Newton Grove, Vann’s Crossroads, Clinton, Piney Grove, Turkey, Herring, Salemburg and Clement. Both Sampson County Emergency Management Services and Suttontown Rescue responded with assistance from the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office and N.C. Highway Patrol.