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Kansas propane blast leaves 1 dead

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: The blasts started a brush fire that destroyed three homes
  • NEW: Hot weather contributed to the spread of the blaze, a fire official says
  • NEW: Between 50 and 75 people were forced to evacuate, the official says
  • Tuesday's explosion claimed one life and left two injured

(CNN) -- Kansas authorities began letting residents around a Wichita-area propane company return home Wednesday afternoon following a series of explosions that left one man dead, injured two more and burned surrounding homes.

The cause of the Tuesday afternoon blast in Rose Hill, about 15 miles southeast of Wichita, remained under investigation Wednesday, Butler County emergency management officials reported. But the 1-mile evacuation radius issued after the explosion at Global Propane was lifted on Wednesday, fire officials and the Butler County Sheriff's Department said.

A 40-year-old worker at the company, Jeffrey Burnham, of Wichita, died after suffering severe burns in the explosion, the sheriff's department said. A second worker, 25-year-old Jeremy Kessler, remained in serious condition at Wichita's Via Christi Hospital, while a third, Barry Long, of Newton, was treated and released Tuesday afternoon, deputies said.

The facility transfers gas from a large tank into smaller cylinders, said Division Chief Doug Williams of the fire department in neighboring Sedgwick County, which assisted Butler County firefighters. The first explosion was followed by several smaller ones, which also set ablaze the nearby brush.

"It ended up burning three houses in the area that were near the plant," Williams said. The 110-degree temperatures in the area on Tuesday "definitely added to the brush and grass fire problem," he said.

Between 50 and 75 people were forced to leave their homes after the explosion, Williams said.

CNN's Shawn Nottingham and Matt Smith contributed to this report.