Sikeston oil fire not considered suspicious

Workers near Sikeston oil fire thankful for emergency personnel
(Source: AdamChrissy Baker/Facebook)
(Source: AdamChrissy Baker/Facebook)
(Source: Captain Jim McMillen/Sikeston DPS)
(Source: Captain Jim McMillen/Sikeston DPS)

SIKESTON, MO (KFVS) - Investigators say the fire that sparked hundreds of propane explosions at an oil distributor in Sikeston on Monday is not considered suspicious.

Sikeston Department of Public Safety Chief Drew Juden says the investigation is complete and they found no reason to believe that it was suspicious.

"It started in the propane recycling area which is where they pull propane out of containers that have been turned back in that have a small percentage of propane still in them," Juden said. "They pull the propane out of those cylinders. In that process, that area becomes a very rich environment with fuel, with product. There was an ignition source, we are not sure what the ignition source was, and that's what caused the initial fire.

"We have surmised that it was probably static electricity, but we are not sure about that either," Juden continued. "There was no other plausible ignition sources that we could find in the area."

The explosions rocked the community of Sikeston and other towns miles away.

Crews worked through the night Monday to Tuesday to put out flare ups at Santie Wholesale Oil Company.

Chief Juden said representatives from DPS, the Fire Marshal, Missouri Propane Safety Commission, ATF, and insurance agents were on the scene Tuesday.

"There is a hazmat contractor on scene. They are cleaning up the hazardous materials, the oil and other products that spilled out," he said. "Once that is done, then the business will be turned back over to the owner and hopefully they will rebuild and we will go on about our day."

Juden said investigators had to wait for the smoldering fire to cool down. Investigators began working on Tuesday afternoon to determine the initial cause.

They talked to witnesses about what happened.

The Red Cross was also at the scene to provide water and lunch to workers.

The spark

The Sikeston Department of Public Safety was called around 9:30 a.m. Monday about the fire near some propane tanks at Santie Wholesale Company at 1296 Larcel Drive.

When crews arrived, several 20-pound propane cylinders were engulfed in flames. When some of those started to explode, fire crews had to back up for safety.

Captain Jim McMillen with Sikeston DPS says hundreds of those propane cylinders exploded in the fire.

"When we got there, I mean the fire has engulfed in the 20-pound cylinders and there were numerous cylinders in that area that the fire was around," McMillen said. "They hit that temperature point to a bleve. They exploded and they were shooting across the fire grounds, some hundreds of feet in the air, some shooting horizontal. And we had to back up our firefighters, back up our command and just try to get to a safe area."

There was a vessel containing 15,000 gallons of propane on the property that fire crews were worried about, but that did not explode. At the time, authorities asked everyone to stay at least a half mile away from the location.

Sikeston DPS called in back up from area emergency agencies.

A few of the fire departments' fire hoses caught fire and were destroyed.

On Monday evening, firefighters worked to keep oil and fuel out of the water system with white tubes to absorb the hazardous material.

Hot weather made fighting fire more difficult

The heat was one of a number of things standing in the way of crews being able to fight the massive fire.

More than 50 firefighters from multiple departments including Sikeston, Cape Girardeau and Morehouse had to deal with temperatures in the 90s.

Sikeston DPS Chief Drew Juden said even though it was 90 degrees outside, under the 50 pounds of equipment crew members have to wear, it can feel more like 120 or 130 degrees.

To prevent heat exhaustion, crew members worked 15-minute shifts, but even that was difficult to withstand.

Juden said while fighting the flames for more than six hours, two firefighters were treated for heat exhaustion. One was taken to an area hospital and the other was treated on site.

Explosions sounded like fireworks

Witnesses say the fire could be seen, felt and heard from dozens of miles away.

People from Morehouse, Matthews, Dexter, Malden, Charleston, and East Prairie were impacted by the blasts.

"Fireworks, big booms," said Terry Couch. "Black. It [the smoke] was thick and we was concerned about everybody's safety. Glad they got out."

Traffic on Hwy. 60  was shut down at the Walmart exit for several hours. Vehicles were backed up to Interstate 55 at one point.

Santie Oil Company employees evacuated the building when it started.

Businesses in the immediate area were evacuated. Power was also cut off to businesses near the fire for a few hours, according to Sikeston BMU.

The Delta Veterinary Clinic, about a mile away, had to move 50 dogs and cats out of their building when their power was shut off.

Dr. Brian Heuring said they could also feel the explosions.

All the employees at the oil company are safe.

Volunteers from the American Red Cross were also on the scene. They handed out food and drinks to some of the 70 or so firefighters and other emergency workers.

Background info on Santie Oil

According to Santie Oil's website, the Sikeston location employs between five and nine people.

Santie Wholesale Oil is a Petroleum Bulk Station. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, bulk stations provide the wholesale distribution of crude petroleum and petroleum products, including liquefied petroleum gas, from bulk liquid storage facilities.

According to the company's website, Santie Oil is an authorized distributor for Chevron/Texaco, Castrol Industrial Metalworking fluids; Castrol Performance Lubes, Purus Products, Service Pro products & Royal Purple.

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