An employee at a specialty gases company in Pasco suffered severe burns to his arms and chest Thursday when gas being vented from acetylene bottles ignited, officials said.
The man was flown to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with second-degree and possibly third-degree burns, said Pasco Fire Chief Bob Gear.
Pasco fire crews were called to Oxarc, 716 S. Oregon Ave., around 1 a.m. Thursday when the fire was reported.
Oxarc is an industrial, medical and specialty gases firm with several locations in Eastern Washington, including Walla Walla, Moses Lake and Sunnyside. They also have shops in Idaho and Oregon.
Workers on the night shift were processing acetylene bottles to refurbish them when the incident occurred, Gear said.
Part of the process includes hooking the bottles up to a plumbing appliance to take out the residual gas, then setting the bottles outside to open the valves and let any remaining gas escape.
"It appears that when the employee went to open one of the bottles ... he probably had some static electricity that sparked after he had some other bottles venting around him," Gear said. "It ignited the gas that was right there. The vapors weren't dispersing very far."
Gear said fire investigators couldn't find any other source of ignition beyond the static electricity possibility.
Some citizens reported hearing a loud explosion early Thursday, but Gear explained that nothing exploded, the gases just ignited.
"It ignited violently and gas continued to burn," he said.
About 20 bottles were on a pallet held in place by a nylon strap. The fire burned away from the strap, so it stayed in place, Gear said.
When firefighters arrived, they worked to cool down the other bottles and let the gases that had ignited burn out.
The employee's name wasn't released by fire officials because of federal medical privacy laws, so no information was available from Harborview about his condition Thursday night.
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org