Propane warehouse catches fire in Highlands County

A massive fire at a propane warehouse sent flames, smoke and propane tanks exploding into the air. One worker at the warehouse located on Twitty Road near U.S. 27, was flown to Tampa General Hospital with burns. Several nearby mobile homes were also destroyed after flames jumped across the road.

This was a fire that could've gone from bad to catastrophic in a matter of seconds. Once deputies and fire crews got everyone far from the flames, fuel, and explosions, all they could do was protect nearby structures while waiting for it to burn down.

"We had those propane tanks literally exploding, flying through the air and landing a quarter mile away in the middle of the highway," said Fire Chief March Bashoor.

With hundreds of those tanks potentially fueling the flames, it was an extremely dangerous fire to fight. "Firefighters are used to running in. This is a situation where we are surrounding it and not allowing anybody in," Bashoor said. "There was one very large tank back there. Fortunately, that tank did not become involved or we would have had a much more catastrophic event here."

Those living within one mile were forced to evacuate, with part of U.S. 27, shut down.

"We were in the pool, my friend and I, and we heard an explosion," recalled Barbara Krause. "One of the other ladies, she said, 'ah, 78, 79, 80,' she was counting them. Then, we saw the black smoke."

"A policeman came by and said get out, go, leave right now," Sharon Jones said. "We got everything we needed, the papers, medications."

As of 9 p.m., U.S. 27 was reopened and the evacuation order was lifted. However, Crosson's Mini Warehouses, the Oak Hammock Animal Hospital and the Dollar General remained inside the new evacuation zone,

Hot embers blown by the wind started several brush fires, including one that destroyed at least 8 structures at a nearby mobile home park.

It's still unclear what caused the fire. The injured worker was unable to tell first responders. Once the facility cools off, the State Fire marshal will analyze the site to figure out what exactly happened.