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Injuries Reported in Tenn. Flare Plant Explosion

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CBS
Updated 4:38 p.m. ET

An explosion and flash fire Tuesday at a plant that makes flares for the military injured six people, three of them critically, authorities said.

The explosion at Kilgore Flares Co. was reported just before noon, said Cris Hill, a dispatcher at the Hardeman County sheriff's office.

A Memphis hospital said three people were brought there in critical condition and a smaller hospital in Bolivar reported three people there in good condition.

County Mayor Willie Spencer, who was at the scene, said the fire apparently was contained to one building, which was heavily damaged.

"It could have been a lot worse," he said. "Any time you have an explosion ... you never know how many people are around."

As for the cause, Spencer said, "I don't think they have a clue."

An operator who answered the phone at the plant's facility about 75 miles northeast of Memphis said the company could not release any information.

A flash fire and explosion at the same plant in April 2001 killed one worker.

The company website says Kilgore supplies infrared decoy flares to counter the threat of guided missiles. The company announced earlier this year a $22.5 million Department of Defense order for flares for B-52 aircraft.

The company's Tennessee production site is a sprawling 264 acres, with another 242 acres for testing, according to the company's website. Kilgore was founded in 1920 and became a major military contractor during World War II. It is owned by Chemring Group PLC, a British company that bought it in 2001.

Tammy Pusser, who works at the Food Shack about 300 feet from the plant entrance, said she saw a plume of black smoke rising above the plant when she went out to make a food delivery. She said she saw three helicopters and two ambulances at the scene.

"It was chilling because I knew that if they had to call 911 it was probably bad," she said.