New Details Reveal Moments Before Shelbyville Explosion - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

New Details Reveal Moments Before Shelbyville Explosion

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by Jason Lamb

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. - State and local fire investigators were at the scene of the massive explosion at the Southern Energy building on Tuesday, trying to figure out what sparked it.

Investigators were armed with witness accounts, taken mainly from the man who was injured in Monday's explosion, who is recovering from burns at Vanderbilt Medical Center. The man injured has been identified as Mike Dinovo of Hillsboro. He was last reported in critical condition.

Shelbyville Fire Marshal Brian Nicholson said his account paints a clearer picture of what took place moments before the explosion and massive fire that broke out at the facility.

Nicholson said according to Dinovo, who is a contracted employee for Southern Energy, a tanker truck was trying to transfer fuel -- which the fire marshal said appears to be methanol -- into an external storage tank outside the building.

In order to take the shipment, they had to draw down methanol in the external storage tank by draining it through plumbing that went inside the building, to a larger vat of methanol inside.

According to the fire marshal, the contractor, working as a chemist in charge of mixing fuels, went inside to operate a pump to begin transferring the fuel. During that process, the internal larger vat may have overflowed, causing methanol vapors to leak into the air.  Those vapors then somehow ignited, causing the initial explosion at the facility, according to the fire marshal.

Investigators are still trying to determine what caused those vapors to ignite.

Nicholson said the fire spread underneath the tanker truck outside, which contained 6,000 gallons of methanol, sparking a secondary explosion that took place after fire trucks had already arrived on scene.

The Shelbyville Fire Department said as part of its investigation, it will be looking into possible fire code violations, because the department said it was unaware of any methanol stored on the property.

"There are some issues we are looking into at this time that we were not aware of prior to the incident," Nicholson said.

In letters exchanged between Southern Energy and the City of Shelbyville over the last five months, the business owner, Gary King, says his company has "complied with all requirements given to us by the city."

Dinovo was able to talk to fire crews immediately after the explosion.  Nicholson said he was one of the first fire crews on scene, and he rescued Dinovo, who warned Nicholson of the potential for the secondary explosion at the tanker truck.

"The victim himself gave us a lot of information we used to protect other citizens and combat the fire," Nicholson said. "It is remarkable that he was able to walk and talk and give us the information that he did, I'd say it's nothing short of heroic."


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