Questions surround production at Shelbyville facility - KAIT Jonesboro, AR - Region 8 News, weather, sports

Questions surround production at Shelbyville facility prior to explosion


Channel 4 News has uncovered troubling new details about Monday's big explosion at an energy company in Shelbyville.

The Shelbyville Fire Department said Tuesday it didn't have accurate information about the potential dangers at the Southern Energy Co. facility on Lane Parkway near downtown.

The explosion and fire sent one man to the hospital, with burns on more than half of his body.

"There was a transfer of fuel. The fuel in question appears to be methanol," said Shelbyville Fire Marshal Brian Nicholson.

But in the process of putting that chemical in a tank, something went wrong.

"In order to take the shipment, they had to draw-down the tank through plumbing that went inside the building," Nicholson said.

Authorities said Mike DiNovo, a chemist who worked for Southern Energy, remains at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The hospital said he was in critical condition.

Somehow, that system overflowed. The vapors then ignited and set off an explosion, injuring a nearby chemist.

The fire spread to the tanker truck, and with firefighters watching, it also exploded.

As the smoke cleared Tuesday, a new troubling problem emerged.

"The fire department had no knowledge of any type of fuel production," Nicholson said. "The only thing we were aware was on site was used cooking oil. There are some other issues that we are looking into at this time that we were not aware of prior to the incident today."

City records reveal a complaint lodged against Southern Energy in June.

The city manager wanted to know what went on at the facility.

The company responded, revealing it made biodiesel, writing it previously spoke with the codes department and the city's fire department.

But the city's fire marshal tells Channel 4 News he did not know about the biodiesel production until seeing the letter for himself the morning after the explosion.

"It might be a possible violation of fire codes because of the protection status of the buildings," Nicholson said.

For now, that investigation takes a back burner as concern centers on the runoff from the explosion and trying to keep it from the nearby Duck River.

State environmental teams stepped in Tuesday to help fix a mess much bigger than flames and smoke.

"We want to make sure that whatever happened here - whatever went wrong here - we fully understand that and prevent that from happening here," Nicholson said.

The city records also list several numbers for the owner of Southern Energy.

Channel 4 News has left several messages but so far has not heard back.

The fire department's chaplain and a captain visited him to offer support.

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