Pa. farm rocked by explosion


SALEM, Ohio – The explosion shook homes and buildings as far as 10 miles away. A machinery shed got scorched and two grain bins were damaged.
But somehow, no one got hurt when a 1,000-gallon propane tank exploded on the Bates Family Farm in Salem Township, about five miles east of Greenville, Pa.
What happened. The family had been drying corn in one of the farm’s grain bins around 8 p.m. Nov. 7 when a fire broke out. The blaze caused a nearby propane tank to explode, launching a large portion of the tank into the air. The propane tank flew straight through an empty grain bin before landing half a mile from the scene.
“It went in one side and out the other,” said Tim Buck, Sheakleyville Community Volunteer Fire Department chief. “It actually blew the roof right off that grain bin and everything.”
The grain bin containing the corn was damaged by the flames.
Buck said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.
“It could’ve been the grain bin, it could’ve been the dryer, it could’ve been the propane tank,” he said.
Family farm. The farm is owned by Marilyn Bates and managed by her sons, Wesley and Lester Bates.
According to Wesley’s wife, Robin Bates, both grain bins and the machinery shed are insured, but the cost of the damage is still unknown.
Robin and Wesley live about one mile away from the farm, but the effects of the blast were evident even at their home.
“It knocked things off the walls at our house,” Robin said.
About 50 firefighters from Sheakleyville and the Fallowfield Fire Department responded to the Quinter Road farm. Fortunately, the fire itself was minimal.
“When it exploded, it pretty much put everything out,” Buck said.
However, some of the corn was burning in the bin and had to be unloaded by hand. Firefighters spent about 4 1/2 hours at the scene.
Buck said the accident was unlike any he’s experienced during his 20 years as a firefighter.
“This was felt miles away,” he said. “It looked like a bomb going off.”
The fire chief added that people as far as 25 miles from the farm called the local emergency service to report the explosion.
Got lucky. Robin, who was in Greenville when the explosion occurred, said it was unusual for the farm to be completely vacant in the evening.
“It was a miracle because every night there are people over there,” she said. “But for some strange reason, that night everyone had something else to do.”
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at

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