Gas explosion in Mumford destroys plant

Last Tuesday, Sept. 13, a fire resulting in a gas explosion destroyed the Burnwell propane plant in the hamlet of Mumford, N.Y., 17 miles northwest of Geneseo.

According to Mike Burnside, the Monroe Country sheriff's investigator and fire chief of Mumford, the fire began just after 3 p.m. and took about four hours to extinguish. Seventy-five firefighters from 24 fire companies arrived at the scene to fight the blaze.

One Burnwell employee, Randy Fellows, was transported to Strong Memorial Hospital after suffering non-life-threatening burns to his face and arms. His condition has been downgraded from critical to guarded, and he is expected to recover. A firefighter was also treated for minor hand injuries at the scene.

As a precaution, about 30 people from surrounding homes and businesses were evacuated to the Mumford Fire Hall, while other residents living close by were advised to stay indoors.  

The building housed thousands of gallons of propane in small tanks ranging in size from 20 to 120 gallons, and three larger tanks. According to Burnside, while many of the smaller tanks exploded, the larger tanks containing 30,000, 18,000 and 10,000 gallons remained intact.

After inspecting the tanks for propane leaks, the Mumford Fire Department and the Monroe County Hazardous Materials Response Team moved them to another facility on Wednesday Sept. 14.

Route 36, which also serves as Main Street in the hamlet of Mumford, was closed off during the tank transfer in order to protect the safety of first responders and the community. The road reopened late the next afternoon, and evacuated residents were allowed to return to their homes. In an effort to burn off residual fumes, the Mumford Fire Department conducted a controlled burn on Sept. 15.

The fire department was prepared for the explosion, noting that they had been practicing drills at the plant annually for years.  

According to Burnside, the Monroe County Fire Bureau is investigating the cause of the fire. He said he was unsure of when the investigation would be completed.

Burnside also noted that it was unlikely that Burnwell would rebuild a plant at that location.

"I don't think there are any plans to rebuild here at this point," he said. "They have a lot of other facilities around [the area]."