NewsChannel 11 Investigates Employee Burning Weeds Near a Propane Plant - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

4/28/087

NewsChannel 11 Investigates Employee Burning Weeds Near a Propane Plant

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The sign reads "this is a no smoking facility," and just feet away from it is a propane tank, sitting all by itself. Wonder what was going on here?  No need to wonder, because the video speaks for itself.

Home video shows a guy is burning weeds with a propane torch. He's doing this just about 20 feet away from a propane filling station. This is also the place where a propane explosion happened two years ago. Hundreds of small propane tanks shot in the air and neighboring businesses were destroyed. The fire was so big; NewsChannel 11 covered the story all day.

Eric Burch is with Venture Communication. His business was damaged by the explosion. He works just ten feet away from parked 18 wheeler propane tanks at Wylie Gas and when he saw a person burning weeds, "it scares me to death," he said.

Burch is the one who shot the home video and gave it to NewsChannel 11. "Who was that person in the video with the propane torch?" we asked.  "An employee of Wylie propane," he replied.

E.R. Hicks was just as disturbed when she saw the video. She has lived in a little house next to Wylie for 14 years. "Two years ago, we had a major explosion. I'm thankful my daughter and my two grandbabies weren't here," she said. 

Hicks says after seeing how the fire was so hot it melted metal, and blew hundreds of tanks in the air, she's scared it could happen again - especially after seeing the video. "I actually think it's a lack of responsibility. They're not practicing safety issues. It's like they don't care," said Hicks.

Then last year, Burch shot another home video of a different employee smoking a cigarette at the propane plant. You can see he puts the top down on his BMW, flicks the ash, and sticks the lit cigarette in his mouth as he drives off the premises of Wylie Gas.

Burch showed Wylie Gas owner Bill Tipton the video and says that's when "no smoking signs" went up, "within a matter of days," said Burch.

Tipton was nice to NewsChannel 11 on the phone when we called to question him about what was going on. But he sure did put on a different face when he confronted Eric holding a video camera.

"What's going on?" asked Tipton.  "Nothing much," said Burch. Burch was recording video as the Fire Marshal and Sheriff's deputy were paying a visit to the propane plant. Tipton took the keys out of a truck that doesn't belong to him. Tipton didn't want to go on our camera to explain himself, but he did on Burch's camera to the guy he took the keys from.

"I have a lot of concern with what happened out here with the fire two years ago. We were following rules and regulations we did not realize the other part of the burn ban. Somebody had started the fire. When we showed up, somebody had burned a portion. We finished it up," said Tipton.   "You finished it up with a blow torch?" asked an angry neighbor. 

Tipton also issued NewsChannel 11 the following statement:

"On April 22, Ron Bridges at Wylie LP Gas observed a small grass burn area of unknown origin along the west fence  line of Wylie's property.  The area of concern was beyond the 25 foot open flame safety zone established by the Texas Railroad Commission.  However, to avoid any potential for an uncontrolled or unsupervised grass fire and in an effort to eliminate this potential hazard, Mr. Bridges acted to burn the remaining grass in the same area.  At no time was this small fire left unattended.  Apparently, this activity was alarming to some, but at no time was there any danger to person or property.  Wylie LP Gas and Mr. Bridges regret any misunderstanding or inconvenience caused by the well-intentioned efforts of Mr. Bridges.  Because of pending litigation arising out of a fire that occurred on 2/27/2006, Wylie LP Gas believes that it would be inappropriate to comment further as to the conduct of motives of the individuals involved in reporting the incident in question."

Bill Tipton, President -- Wylie LP Gas, Inc.

Burch also shot video of the Sheriff's department giving the employee, Ron Bridges, a ticket for burning grass during a burn ban. Friday, Bridges pleaded not guilty.  But Burch says that doesn't make him feel any better, because it doesn't change the fact that he is still concerned for his life.  "They're still doing stupid things next door that put all our safety in jeopardy," he said.

Investigators were never able to find out what caused the explosion two years ago. All they know is that a witness said he heard a leaky propane tank that day, but no one knows where the fire came from.  The case is closed with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is the federal agency in charge of enforcing safe working environments. They have been notified about this situation.  So has the Texas Railroad Commission, the state regulatory agency for gas companies.  NewsChannel 11 will keep you posted as to what comes of this. 

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