Massive propane warehouse fire gutted mobile homes; cause under investigation

Highlands County investigators returned to the scene Tuesday where a massive fire at a Sebring propane warehouse swept through mobile homes and launched propane tanks high into the air, injuring one person.

The air was thick the morning after the fire from the warehouse near Twitty Road near U.S. Highway 27 and throughout a nearby mobile home park. Homes were completely leveled. There were structures made of cinderblocks, but even those were gutted and smoldering on Tuesday.

The flames started at a propane warehouse but then jumped and quickly spread across streets and into nearby neighborhoods, forcing evacuations. 

Firefighters found themselves up against an extremely dangerous situation with hundreds of propane tanks exploding and shooting through the air, forcing additional evacuations through Monday afternoon.

"This was what we in the fire service describe as a losing proposition," said Fire Chief March Bashoor. "Indeed it played out that way."  

Eventually, everyone within a one-mile radius was told to get out quickly. Part of U.S. 27 was shut down for a time. The portion of Twitty Road located in front of the warehouse will remain closed until further notice.

Fire crews were forced to move back and wait as the fire burned itself out. 

"We had those propane tanks literally exploding, flying through the air and landing a quarter mile away in the middle of the highway," said Bashoor. "There was one very large tank back there. Fortunately, that tank did not become involved. Had that been involved, we would’ve had a much more catastrophic event here.”  


"Looks like a battle. Everything is burned down," said Candido Garcia, owner of the mobile home park across from the plant.

Hot embers blown by the wind caused several brush fires, including one that ended up igniting the mobile home park. At least 14 mobile homes were destroyed. Several exploded propane tanks that were launched from the warehouse were scattered in yards. 

There was only one victim. A plant manager, later identified as 43-year-old Wayne McCall, remained in serious condition on Tuesday. However, officials said he is talking with his family and they remain "cautiously optimistic." McCall was airlifted from the warehouse to Tampa General Hospital with burns. 

"It is something the fire service typically would not like to see in a residential area... It becomes the pressure of business politics and the community and we end up responding to those issues," said the chief.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but it appears the fire ignited after the plant ceased operations for the day and the plant manager was conducting inventory, officials said.