Explosions rock Philly-area welding company, force evacuations; 5 civilians injured

A series of explosions at a welding supply company on Wednesday injured 5 people, forced evacuations and sent thick black smoke billowing over the area.

The explosions at Scully Welding Supply occurred around 1 p.m. in an industrial area about seven miles southwest of Philadelphia, Delaware County spokesman Bill Lovejoy said. Buildings in a 3,000-foot radius were evacuated, many until the six-alarm fire was brought under control shortly after 6 p.m., he said.

Officials spent hours pouring water on large propane tanks to cool them, Lovejoy said. County Emergency Services Director Ed Truitt said officials also had been concerned about the danger the flames posed to a nearby oxygen supply company.

"If that building were to be breached, that could make life real interesting down there," he said.

The fire caused heavy damage to Scully Welding Supply and a neighboring business, Kaiser Automotive, Lovejoy said. The cause of the blaze was under investigation by state and local authorities, he said. A call to Scully Welding Supply rang unanswered.

Tammy Scanlon, who lives a few hundred yards across the railroad tracks from Scully's Propane, heard the explosions go on for about 30 minutes.

"It sounded like a car backfired the first time. It got worse," she said. "You could feel the dishes shaking in my house. It was just one after another."

Firefighters were still checking for hot spots Wednesday night and planned to pour foam on the blaze, Lovejoy said. Residents were being allowed back into their homes, except for a few homes closest to the fire, but those residents would be allowed back in by midnight, he said.

One of the injured was taken to the Crozer Chester Medical Center's burn unit in critical condition but was later listed in stable condition, a hospital spokesman said. Three people were taken to Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, where two were released and a third was being evaluated. Another person was treated at and released from Taylor Hospital.

Four emergency responders also were treated for heat-related issues, Lovejoy said.

The Red Cross opened three shelters but later consolidated them into one, where 100 evacuees gathered and were fed, Lovejoy said. No overnight shelter was planned, he said.

Broadcast footage showed firefighters dousing flames between a pair of large tanks and debris littering the area between the tanks and nearby buildings. Black smoke poured from the blazes as firefighters shot water at flames from afar.

Kimberly Bench said she felt the air suck in and out of her house and looked up to see a big piece of metal hurtling skyward during the blasts.

"We heard a big explosion," she said. "Our house rattled."

Butch Cook, who manages a nearby a sandwich shop, said he heard a series of explosions, each one followed by flames, for about 20 minutes.

"You would hear a bang, and then the flames would be there," Cook said.