NAPLES — Three people were injured this morning in a gas explosion at the Mangrove Cafe on Fifth Avenue South in downtown Naples. Propane tanks were being filled behind the restaurant by a truck from Balgas Propane of Naples when the blast occurred.
One blast victim, Balgas Propane employee Tom Smith, was transported to the Regional Burn Center at Tampa General Hospital. Smith was transported to the burn unit via medical helicopter, which landed nearby at Gulf View Middle School.
The other two injured in the explosion were cook William "Billy" McCauley and Donald Kington, a beer distributor. They were taken to local hospitals. Two Naples police officers also reported smoke inhalation injuries, said Naples Police Chief Tom Weschler.
The blast was powerful enough to blow glass out the front of the building and onto Fifth Avenue South, now temporarily closed from Ninth Street to Eighth Street South.
A witness to this morning's blast, Anthony Ellis, 34, was doing remodeling work on the north side of Fifth Avenue when he heard the loud explosion and saw the roof lift off the building across the street.
"I honestly thought it was an earthquake," Ellis said. "I dropped my load and ran over there to see if I could help."
Ellis said the restaurant was filled with smoke. He saw one of the burn victims with singed hair and visible burns asking for water.
A similar type of incident occurred in June 2007 at the old Dixie Moon Cafe on the corner of Old 41 Road and Dean Street in Bonita Springs. An employee of a Bonita Springs gas company was severely burned when the gas ignited while he was refueling two propane tanks behind the restaurant.
Check back here soon for photos and updates from the scene.