Western International Gas & Cylinder, a gas delivery company involved in the Southwest Industrial Gases acetylene explosion in Dallas last month, was at the center of a similar incident outside Houston on Tuesday. Western International Gas & Cylinder was making a delivery to the Hughes Christian manufacturing plant when the companyâ€™s truck burst into flames. Another truck owned by Western International had been at the center of the Dallas plant explosion.
While no cause has been assigned to the Houston blaze, a spokesman for Hughes Christian said that Western International had been making a delivery of new canisters and gas when the companyâ€™s truck exploded. Fortunately, the gas cylinders were pointing upwards, so flames shot straight into the air. Firefighters were able to keep the flames from spreading to nearby acetylene tanks. No one was hurt, though the Hughes Christian plant was evacuated.
An 18-wheel truck owned by Western International also exploded at the Southwest Industrial Gases facility in Dallas. That fire spread to gas canisters in the facility. The canisters, filled with oxygen, helium and acetylene, began exploding, sending fireballs through the air. Witnesses a mile away reported flaming shrapnel falling from the sky, and a half-mile area around Southwest Industrial Gases was evacuated. The explosions shut down a major Dallas highway, and traffic in the city was snarled for hours. The explosions were so ferocious, that at first, fire crews could not get to the scene.
Two workers from the Southwest Industrial plant were injured in the blaze. Both Randal Bibb, 50, and Daniel McMurray, 56, were burned in the explosion. They were each released from Parkland Memorial Hospital this week.
Southwest Industrialâ€™s management said the explosions started when a connector used to fill tanks with acetylene malfunctioned and sparked a fire. Drivers from Western International are the only individuals permitted to connect the tanks during gas deliveries. A similar operation was going on at the time of the Hughes Christian fire.
Western International has a spotty safety record. Recently several of the companyâ€™s trucks have been cited for safety violations, including failing to secure loads, improperly adjusting brakes and failing to inspect emergency equipment while carrying flammable gas. Western Internationalâ€™s Belleville, Texas plant was also the site of an acetylene explosion in 2001. Like the Houston and Dallas fires, that explosion also started on one of the companyâ€™s trucks. No one was hurt in that fire, but a nearby highway was closed.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazards Board is investigating the Dallas incident, and is expected to announce next month if it will launch a full investigation into the Southwest Industrial Gas explosion. The board is working to determine if any problems that led to the Dallas explosion are common at other facilities in the U.S. If so, such an investigation could lead to improvements nationwide