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Many Lafayette Square neighbors want Praxair out

The fire sent cylinders of propane flying into the nearby Lafayette Square neighborhood (UPI photo/Bill Greenblatt).
The fire sent cylinders of propane flying into the nearby Lafayette Square neighborhood (UPI photo/Bill Greenblatt).

By Tom Weber, KWMU

St. Louis, MO – A member of the Lafayette Square neighborhood association says he can't see any scenario where residents would want Praxair reopening its plant.

Investigators are still working at the plant on Chouteau, where a massive fire on Friday shut down I-64 and forced evacuations. Large canisters of propane and other gases exploded, as well, and hurled debris across the neighborhood.

No one was hurt, including the 24 people on Praxair's property when the fire started.

But Mark Ferris, who sits on the Lafayette Square Restoration Committee, says the incident raised concerns with his neighbors.

He says the last company to use that property before Praxair, Airco, promised neighbors nothing volatile would be handled. He says he wasn't aware that had changed with Praxair's arrival until Friday.

"There are just all sorts of stories floating around about the near misses of people getting hurt, so we are just so happy that nothing happened," Ferris said.

"But now that we see the potential of what can happen there we will be contacting the mayor and the governor and telling them about our wishes that Praxair not reopen at that sight."

The neighborhood association's board will hold a previously-scheduled meeting Tuesday night. Ferris says he expects a lot of people to show up, but also says the association may schedule a special meeting, possibly with officials from Praxiar, to dicsuss the matter.

"It's not an issue about whether they supply an important service, but it's where they're located. It just doesn't belong in a residential neighborhood."


The investigation into the fire continues, though no one can get to the area of the plant where the fire is thought to have started.

It's in the property's southeast corner, where the company stored tanks of propane and acetylene.

Investigators from the U-S Chemical Safety Board will return to Washington tonight (Monday), after surveying the Praxair plant this weekend. The board can't fine or cite any company, but it can make recommendations to prevent other such incidents.

Investigator Stephen Selk says he's particularly concerned with the gas canisters that were launched into the surrounding neighborhood: "We want to do some inquiry as to why so many cylinders exploded.

"We believe hundreds of cylinders actually exploded."

Selk says the farthest debris he's found landed 900 feet from Praxair's property.

But he also adds it possible the exact cause of the fire will never be known: "When one has a very damaged fire scene, it can be challenging - and sometimes impossible - to determine the exact nature of the initiating event."