Worker dies in explosion at Talbot County plant

Homes and businesses evacuated after blast at safety-products factory

March 15, 2001|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

EASTON -- A Talbot County factory that manufactures roadside safety flares exploded yesterday in a cloud of dense smoke and a ball of fire, killing a longtime worker in a blast that shook buildings and rattled windows for miles.

Investigators from the State Fire Marshal's office and Maryland Occupational Safety and Health were sifting through rubble last night, looking for the cause of the 3:40 p.m. explosion at the Orion Safety Products plant, a nondescript complex of buildings near the busy intersection of Easton Parkway and St. Michaels Road.

Authorities said Tyrone Cornel Wilson Sr., 41, who lived in nearby Tunis Mills, was killed instantly in the ignition makeup room, where the blast occurred, in the manufacturing section of the plant. According to the county sheriff's office, no one else among Orion's 50 employees was injured.

Michael Gray, who works at a convenience store at the Easton Market Place shopping center, had a clear view of the plant across an open corn field from about a half-mile away.

"It looked like a bomb," Gray said. "It actually had a mushroom cloud. After about 30 minutes, the smoke cleared, and you could see a fireball. All you could smell was sulfur."

As fire and rescue trucks from nearby volunteer companies arrived, the county sheriff's office, state police and Easton city police quickly blocked traffic on Route 33, the main road to St. Michaels and Tilghman Island. Fearing that the explosion could have released dangerous chemicals, officers re-routed traffic through back roads, a three-mile detour that delayed motorists for hours. People in nearby homes and businesses were evacuated.

Firefighters extinguished the fire in about 30 minutes, but more than three hours after the blast, police and fire vehicles remained at the site.

An emergency response team from the Maryland Department of the Environment was called, said Chris Milligan, Talbot's hazardous materials coordinator. Among the potentially harmful chemicals used at the Orion company plant, which manufactures a variety of safety equipment, including safety glasses, are potassium percholate, sulfur, strontium nitrate, phosphorous and methalene chloride, she said.

Several police officers who were among the first to respond to dozens of 911 calls had to undergo decontamination, Milligan said.

Dispatchers and others at the county emergency operations center, about a mile from the plant, said they thought a plane had crashed when they heard the blast and saw the smoke.

Dale Smith, a dispatcher, said firefighters have been called to the Orion plant, which for years was known as Standard Fusee Corp., at least twice before during his 25 years as a member of the Easton volunteer fire company.

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