The Tullahoma Fire Department assisted the Shelbyville Fire Department Monday afternoon while it was battling a large fire and explosion in downtown Shelbyville that critically injured Mike Dinovo of Hillsboro and required evacuation within a half a mile radius of the area.
Shelbyville firefighters responded to the Southern Energy Co. building on Lane Parkway following several explosions and the resulting fire and heavy smoke.
According to a report in the Shelbyville Times Gazette, Fire Chief Ricky McConnell said one of Southern Energy’s employees, believed to be Dinovo, was off-loading the chemical methanol when the explosions occurred. The worker who was unloading the tractor-trailer truck suffered burns over 50 percent of his body and was airlifted to Vanderbilt University Medical Center for treatment where he was listed in critical condition Tuesday afternoon.
Two other persons reportedly suffered minor injuries.
Gary King, owner of Southern Energy, told the Shelbyville paper that the fuel involved was methanol and said the exact cause of the explosions are still undetermined.
He said the company has been making bio-fuel at Southern Energy for two years “but nothing that would have made that type of flash point.”
Shelbyville Police Chief Austin Swing told reporters that the Southern Energy building was located next door to the Bedford County workhouse where jail inmates who are approved for work release live. It is also next to the Bedford County animal control facility. Both buildings had to be evacuated. Children from Eakin Elementary School also were evacuated.
Substances spewed across the rear parking lot and down the north ditchline along West Jackson Street as the fire was being fought. At one point the chemical-filled ditchline was ablaze for up to 50 yards as the contaminated water flowed toward a nearby drainage basin that empties into Duck River.
Shelbyville public works employees set up dams around the West Jackson-North Cannon Boulevard intersection and bulldozed the water that reached the basin.
Tullahoma Fire Chief Richard Shasteen said he, one engine and five firefighters went to Shelbyville and manned a fire hall while the Shelbyville firefighters were battling the blaze.
“We were there in case there were any other fires in the city,” the chief said. “We were there to help out.”
According to The Associated Press, the building housed offices and did not store gas on site, but there was some biodiesel stored in large tanks around the back, Shelbyville city manager Jay Johnson said.
Johnson said the cause will be investigated with help from the state fire marshal’s office. He said the person who was injured was near the site of the accident and caught fire.
The Shelbyville Fire Department is about a block away from the facility and was able to respond immediately.
“It could have been much, much worse,” Johnson said.
Tennessee Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeremy Heidt said most of the trusties at the workhouse were out on work detail when the fire broke out.
Animal control workers from neighboring Rutherford County were called in to help evacuate the Bedford County animal shelter, which is immediately adjacent to Southern Energy.
Bedford County Emergency Management director Scott Johnson said officials originally ordered an evacuation of the immediate area out of concerns that there could be toxic fumes coming from the burning building. By late afternoon, the fire was mostly out and people were being allowed to return, The Associated Press reported.