Federal authorities investigate Kilgore plant explosion - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Federal authorities investigate Kilgore plant explosion

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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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HARDEMAN COUNTY, Tenn. (Fox13) -

UPDATE:

It took a federal warrant to gain access, after the Kilgore Flares plant in Toone, Tenn., exploded Saturday, critically injuring a worker.

Investigators are now trying to piece together what led to this weekend's explosion at the Kilgore Flares Plant. But, the company that manufactures evasive flares for military aircrafts has a long history of problems.

Toone resident Kimberly Simer says, "My pictures on the wall went on the floor, it shook my house, my mama jumped, my dog jumped, I'm scared to live in Toone right now."

For decades this quiet, sparsely populated, community of Toone has rolled the dice for years with the third largest employer in Hardeman County-Kilgore Flares.

The most recent explosion at this plant, a former worker calls it simply a crap shoot if you're employed at Kilgore, "I was working down there and a couple of people got killed down there," says Thomas Macon.

The plant has an extensive history of workers getting killed or severely injured.

In a 2010 explosion, three workers were severely burned in a fire. The fed's cited the plant for 14 safety violations and fined the company 350-thousand dollars. For more than a decade, Fox 13 learned the company was slapped with numerous violations and fines. Workers died in 2001, 1999 and 1993 from flash fires.

"The other time something happened real bad down here, they said if it ever happened again, they going to' shut it down, but now it's in another hands so I don't know what they're going to do," according to Macon.

Kilgore Flares is the only major plant in this small impoverished community, neighbors say good jobs, even risky are tough to come by.

According to Simer, "They get paid good down there. Let's put it this way, I was going to work there and I heard all that and I said oh no."

Folks who live within a mile or two of the Kilgore plant, said they felt the explosion at the plant this weekend, but Toone Elementary sits right behind the plant separated by a simple fence.

"We got all kinds of little kids up there at Toone school and it's cracked the building 3 or 4 times and that's still ain't no wake up call," says Macon.

 

-------(from earlier)

An explosion at a Mid-South plant rocks a small community and lands a man in the hospital. Now authorities are taking a deeper look into the manufacturing plant's checkered past. 

Federal and local authorities are trying to determine the cause of multiple explosions at the Kilgore Flares plant in Toone, Tennessee, over an hour northeast of Memphis.

The first explosion happened Saturday just before 11 a.m., sending one employee, identified as Michael Chism, to the hospital in critical condition with burns covering 90 percent of his body.

MORE: Worker in critical condition after plant explosion

Then, less than 12 hours later, there was another explosion, but authorities say this time it was controlled and contained.

They also say Kilgore has a history of incidents and injuries, calling the company's past 'unacceptable.'

As of Sunday, the victim, Michael Chism, is still fighting for his life as officials try to figure out what happened.

Investigators have assembled a team of specialists from around the country with their expertise ranging from chemists to bomb technicians. Initially authorities were kept outside the building and couldn't even get near the scene to investigate. But late Saturday night, they got a federal search warrant.

Now begins the task of sorting through what's at the scene and putting everyone's minds at ease.

"Basically I thought someone had plowed into the front of my house, it sounded like a freaking 175-year old oak tree falling on top of my house," Neighbor Peter Brazelton, who lives up the hill from the Kilgore plant, said of the explosion, "It shook the house, and it rattled the windows."

According to authorities, it's one of the many explosions that tend to happen here. Federal investigators say there have been multiple incidents and injuries and at least one death over the last ten years.

"If there were injuries or deaths that wouldn't be acceptable in any way," Special Agent Jeff Fulton of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives said, "They do happen in industrial manufacturing, but clearly they're concern for law enforcement, public safety and the company ."

Meanwhile neighbor Peter Brazelton says while he's not too concerned about the recent explosions, others are on edge.

"I'm not really, it was just an isolated incident as far as I'm concerned," he said, "They (my neighbors) might have a little bit of worries, but you know they've lived here longer than I have so they have a little bit more on their minds."

Authorities say Kilgore safety managers are on site helping with the investigation, and the company issued a statement Saturday, saying in part:

          "Kilgore is in the process of gathering the facts as to what happened and will cooperate fully with the federal, state, and local authorities in that regard."         

Now federal and local agencies are working to find answers for this small community with the victim, Michael Chism, and his family in mind. 

"The Chisms are a wonderful family around here," Hardeman County Sheriff John Doolen, "It hits home, it's kind of like family here, I mean we all know each other." 

"It's kind of a tight knit family around here, and we just feel bad for the family," he added.  

Though there have been multiple explosions at the Kilgore plant in less than 24 hours, we're told at this point, there is no immediate danger to the public.

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