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2 remain in hospital after fire in restaurant

Two women remained hospitalized Thursday with burns sustained when butane in a table-side stove ignited at a Clearwater restaurant.

Seven people were injured in the flash fire at the Melting Pot at 225822 U.S. 19 N. Betty Preston and Diane Wisniewski, whose ages and addresses were unavailable, were in good condition in the burn unit at Tampa General Hospital. The other diners were treated for minor injuries.

Clearwater Fire Marshal Randy Hinder said a portable butane stove was being used at a table seating 18 people because an electric one was not working.

The flame on the stove went out and could not be reignited. The butane cylinder was turned off, but some butane _ which is heavier than air _ was apparently trapped in the stove. The trapped gas exploded with a small pop, he said.

The butane cylinder was dislodged, and vented gas ignited in a flash fire Hinder said.

"I really don't know what they could have done differently," he said. "This was just a freakish accident."

Restaurant owner Robert Johnston said the fire lasted several seconds and was limited to an 8-foot-square area. He and Hinder said a restaurant employee pushed several patrons to safety.

The restaurant was not damaged and is open for business.

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