SOUTH VENICE — Two people suffered severe injuries and were transported to an area burn unit after an explosion and fire while they were working with gunpowder and ammunition Thursday afternoon.

Authorities responded to the 120 block of Sunset Beach Drive near U.S. 41 behind PNG Bank at 2:15 p.m.

The victims were able to tell authorities they had been working in the 60-by-60 garage filling or refilling bullets with gunpowder when the blast occurred, but it is unclear what caused it.

The current conditions of the victims was not available. 

The explosions rocked the area and the fire led to ammunition going off. At the scene, random bangs of bullets exploding could be heard as firefighters fought to control the blaze. Authorities discovered exploded shells on the streets outside. 

"There was a lot of rounds going off at once," Sarasota County Fire Chief  Michael Regnier said. "A lot of 'pop-pop-pop.' That caused (us) to evacuate the area."

Firefighters in the area were warned to keep their helmets and equipment on.

Along with Sarasota County, Venice and Nokomis fire departments assisted, but Regnier noted all the departments took a defensive stance to battle the blaze from a distance. They have that technology, using unmanned lines and an unmanned ladder truck to pour water on the blaze. 

"And we were able to put the fire in check that way," he said.  

Along with the heavy gunpowder, propane tanks caused more explosions and smoke that could be seen for miles from the scene. 

"We determined there were additional cartridges of propane throughout the structure, along with smaller propane tanks," he said. 

Regnier said "a lot of gunpowder" was involved.

"We're always concerned about ammo going off like that," he said. "It's not uncommon to go to a structure fire ...with people having weapons of some sort ... however, not at this level." 

No obvious damage had been done to nearby buildings. 

By 4:05 p.m., the fire was under control. 

The State Fire Marshal is investigating.

News editor Greg Giles contributed to this report.


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