BLACK BETSY, W.Va. -- Two men were injured Monday afternoon in a blast at the Airgas plant in Putnam County.
The men were taken to Cabell Huntington Hospital with first- and second-degree burns, according to officials on the scene. One man received burns to his face, the other to his arms, an official said.
The explosion and fire were first reported at the Airgas Mid America plant on W.Va. 62 in Black Betsy at about 3:30 p.m.
Fifty cylinders of acetylene were believed to be the source of the explosion, emergency officials said. Acetylene is a gas commonly used for welding and torch-cutting metal; its smell lingered in the air outside of the plant.
Witnesses told first responders that they saw flames shooting from the plant.
Officials briefly closed W.Va. 62 in the area of the plant for several hours. Members of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration arrived at the scene.
Doug Barker, chief financial officer of Clark Truck Parts, about half a mile away from the Airgas plant, said employees at the business both heard and felt the effects of the blasts.
"The first one was really big," Barker said. "Then there were a series of smaller [explosions]. Since it was at the Airgas facility, it was probably a bunch of smaller tanks going off."
Barker said he went outside, and first saw a huge cloud of black smoke and flames, then white smoke and steam as firefighters apparently started to get the blaze under control. He said the fire appeared to be under control by about 3:45 p.m.
By 4 p.m., firefighters had the fire "out for the most part," said Chad Jones of the Bancroft Volunteer Fire Department.
Jones said about 100 cylinders are stored in the bunker where the explosion occurred, and about 50 of them exploded.
The plant employs 10 people, one employee said. Five workers were there at the time of the explosion, he said.
The Airgas facility reported having on hand up to 76,000 pounds of propylene and up to 10,000 pounds of propane, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data compiled by the Right-to-Know Network, a public interest group that monitors chemical safety.
The EPA data did not include any information about the stockpile of acetylene reported to be the source of Monday's explosion at the Airgas facility.