Life becomes Hell on Earth for woman burned in plant fire

The Kilgore facility shortly after the explosion of September, 2010.
The Kilgore facility shortly after the explosion of September, 2010.

(WMC-TV) – A Mid-South woman who was burned alive on the job has now been fired from the facility where she was injured. Catrina Jones describes the past year as Hell on Earth.

"I don't know why this happened to me," she said. "I feel like I'm a good person."

She and two co-workers were severely burned during an explosion at Kilgore Flares in Toone, Tennessee in September of 2010.

"I cant remember if I heard the bell first or saw fire first," she said. "When I ran out the door, they were like, 'Catrina you're still on fire, you're still on fire,' and I started beating my chest and rolled down the hill in some grass."

Employees at Kilgore manufacture explosives. On the day Jones was burned, state officials found the site overloaded with flammable materials. The Tennessee division of OSHA recorded 14 violations, some considered "serious" - meaning there was a substantial probability death or serious injury could result and the employer knew or should have known about the hazards.

"You working safe," Jones said "You don't think nothing's gonna happen, but you should think something's gonna happen because of what you're working with."

The Action News Five Investigators uncovered a history of deadly explosions at the plant. Two employees died after a fire in 1993. One died in 1999, and one in 2001. Another , Erica Jarrett, died just a few weeks ago. Jarrett was burned the same day as Catrina Jones, and died after spending months in the hospital and rehab.

"We have sprinklers in our booth that are supposed to sense when there's a fire, but they didn't go off," Jones said.

The cause of the fire that killed Jarrett and injured Jones was undetermined, but investigative records from the 1999 fire show the building had not been cleaned of residual material that posed a fire hazard. The company also paid $200,000 for several workplace violations investigators say contributed to the 2001 fire.

Kilgore was fined more than $300,000 dollars after last year's fire.

"Sometimes I feel like just giving up and breaking everything," Jones said. "I know that's not gonna solve everything, and then again I know it's gonna solve my anger."

The Chemring Group purchased Kilgore Flares in 2001. A company spokesperson says since then they've spent nearly $50 million on automation facilities and safety improvements at the plant. They say employee safety has and always will be their number one priority.

But Jones' safety is no longer an issue for Kilgore. The company fired her in August, almost a year after flames torched her arms, upper body and face. Kilgore said they kept Jones' job open as long as the law required them to, and that they would hire her back if and when she's able to return to work.

Jones is now relying on workers compensation to help with medical expenses.

Despite Jones' account the sprinklers didn't work, TOSHA reports Kilgore's fire protection system did discharge that day. Kilgore had no comment on the, and the company is also not talking about the 14 violations because it is appealing those findings.

According to Kilgore Flares spokesperson Mike Rooney:

"The Chemring Group purchased Kilgore in 2001 it spent nearly $50 million in automation facilities and infrastructure improvements to dramatically improve the safety of operations at the plant with full support of all federal and state regulatory agencies including the Department of Defense.

"The safety of our workforce has and always will be our #1 priority at Kilgore. We work every day to improve our safety program, including extensive training for all employees, regular safety briefings by supervisors, and ongoing infrastructure investments. Prior to accident in 2010 and since 2001 we had 4.5 million man-hours worked with only one lost time injury.

"We continue to work through the TOSHA administrative appeals process regarding the accident in September 2010 and the resulting citations.

"We also note that we have had two TOSHA audits in the last year since the accident with no new citations issued. While we are proud of that, we will again work every day to improve our safety program."

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