Eden, NC – Propane explosion injures 2 men

By Cynthia Jeffries, Staff Writer

News & Record

EDEN — Two employees of a propane gas company were injured Tuesday morning when a gas water heater they were working on exploded.

Johnny Porter, 61, of Eden and Kevin Emmerson, 34, of Yanceyville, employees of Carolina Propane near Reidsville, were taken to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.

Porter, who had first- and second- degree burns on his hands, face and chest, was in good condition, a nursing supervisor said Tuesday afternoon.

Emmerson, was in fair condition, but the extent of his injuries was not available Tuesday.

The explosion occurred about 9:15 a.m. at Shirley Biggs’ home at 145 Tate Vernon Lane north of Eden.

Biggs said she realized that her 500-gallon propane tank was empty Monday evening. She tried phoning Carolina Propane to have it refilled, but couldn’t reach anyone.

Early Tuesday morning, Biggs, 72, called the company to ask them to refill her tank. Porter and Emmerson, both of whom had been employed by the company for five years, were sent to her home.

It took about 20 minutes to fill the tank. Afterward, one of Biggs’ neighbor, Wayne Tate, let the two men into Biggs’ basement so they could start the pilot light on her water heater.

The two were feeding gas from the tank to the water heater and were in the process of igniting the heater’s pilot light when the explosion happened.

The sound of the blast was heard about half a mile away on N.C. 14, said Robert Cardwell, Rockingham County’s deputy fire marshal.

Shortly before the explosion, Biggs had walked outside her home to hang laundry on a clothesline.

Tate, the neighbor, was in the back yard. Neither was injured.

Insulation and debris and power tools from the basement were scattered around the back yard.

The explosion blew off one of the side doors of the house. Dishes were thrown from cabinets, and the refrigerator door blew open.

The house shifted a few feet on its foundation, and two cinder-block support walls of the foundation were damaged.

Porter and Emmerson were able to crawl out of the basement.

“I don’t know how they survived this,” said Tony Powell, Biggs’ son-in-law.

County officials put yellow security tape around the two-bedroom, one-bath, wood siding house. They also condemned the structure.

Biggs, who had lived in the house for 13 years, spent Tuesday night with her granddaughter, Angela Lemons in Reidsville.

Rockingham County Fire Marshal Steve Hale, who is investigating the explosion, said it’s not a good idea to allow a tank to get completely empty.

“If you are getting low, it’s better to go ahead and refill it,” he said.