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Blue Rhino reopening premature until cause of propane-tank explosion is divulged

Shame on the Florida fire marshal and the state agency that regulates LP gas.

Nearly five months after an explosion at the Blue Rhino plant nearly took a chunk of Tavares off the map, neither agency has figured out what happened — or, at least they're not saying.

Even though the people of Lake County have gotten no answers about what caused the blast, Blue Rhino this week merrily returned to filling propane tanks, leaving people who live and work near the plant wondering whether their homes and businesses again could be the target of 53,000 exploding missiles.

A spokeswoman for the fire marshal has said several times in recent months that they have one more person to interview before they can finish the report. Newsflash: No one cares about the details of the stinkin' report. Give us the meat.

Asked what caused the blast, a spokesman for the state Bureau of LP gas said its report was not complete, but "We are working diligently to gather eye-witness testimony from key individuals."

Asked specifically what "key individuals" are gumming up the works, the spokesman said, "The specifics of the investigation will be available once the report is released."

What a bunch of humbug. The answers are deliberately deceptive, and this insulting approach to placating the public needs to stop. If these folks can't figure out the basics of what caused such a dramatic explosion the night of July 29, they should be replaced with those who can.

Blue Rhino, too, pointedly ignored questions about what converted canisters for backyard grills into exploding missiles, some landing hundreds of yards from the plant, injuring eight people.

Instead, the company opted to send a cheery statement detailing what it has done to make the plant safer. The changes "should give neighboring residents and businesses even greater confidence in the safety of our operation."

Who are these guys trying to kid? Why should any neighbor or business have even the smallest confidence in Blue Rhino? The company couldn't have handled this situation much worse than it has. It has been evasive and cagey in what clearly is an attempt to dodge lawsuits.

The statement says that the company added two more exit gates from the plant. That makes it safer? Presumably it only makes fleeing any fresh explosion a little more expeditious.

The company says it is handling 30 percent fewer tanks and increasing the space between pallets of them. Is the public to presume that the number of tanks and lack of space had something to do with the explosion? It's impossible to judge whether those measures will do anything toward preventing another big blow.

After all, if no one knows what caused the blast, how can anyone do anything to prevent another one?

The company also is installing big water guns that would cool the three 30,000-pound tanks. This is nice, of course, but Tavares fire officials said the big tanks never were in danger, so how do water guns help?

Obviously, both state agencies and the company itself know perfectly well what caused the meltdown. They're simply not saying because they want to make every little detail perfect before they release their findings.

Sorry, but the time for that has run out. It ended Monday, when Blue Rhino went back into full production, filling and refurbishing tanks and shipping them out again.

This isn't the 1860s, when horrific working conditions in factories regularly resulted in explosions and residents just shrugged their shoulders and buried the dead. The people who live and work around the Blue Rhino plant have a right to know what happened and whether measures are being taken to prevent another blast.

They deserve to learn whether the changes that Blue Rhino made are significant or window dressing.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who oversees the fire marshal's office, and Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam, who oversees LP gas, need to step up and order their employees stop all this bureaucratic blather and immediately provide meaningful information. Lauren invites you to send her a friend request on Facebook at

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