Fire, explosions at Philadelphia oil refinery caused by butane vat; no injuries reported

Adam Duvernay, Delaware News Journal, and MATT ROURKE, Associated Press
It’s the second fire at the refinery in one month, following a June 10 fire in which no injuries were reported.

WILMINGTON, Del. –  A fire in a vat of butane was reportedly the cause of explosions at a 150-year-old refinery complex in Philadelphia that turned the early Friday sky a bright orange and yellow and awakened startled residents, local officials said Friday afternoon.. Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex spokeswoman Cherice Corley said the fire broke out around 4 a.m. It burned for hours.

The fire was contained by 7.am. but not under control, said Craig Murphy, the city's deputy fire commissioner. Nearby residents were asked to shelter in place.

Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said in a news release Friday afternoon that EMS teams treated one person at the scene. Four others were treated at Philadelphia Energy Solutions' clinic.

“The Fire Marshal’s Office will investigate the cause and origin of the fire once the incident is over and the scene is safe to enter. But the investigation will take time. For now, this remains a dynamic situation," Thiel said in the statement. 

Thick, black smoke billowed across the city when the fire started.

"The whole sky lit up yellow," Antonio Tindle told WPVI-TV. "The third explosion rocked my truck. The whole truck started to rock and it got kind of scary."

Murphy said a vat of butane ignited and eventually exploded. A series of smaller explosions occurred as the fire worked its way through the pipes carrying fuel across the complex. Refinery emergency crews and firefighters responded to the scene.

Flames and smoke emerge from the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex in Philadelphia, Friday, June 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Philadelphia Energy Solutions says the oil-refining complex is the largest on the U.S. Eastern seaboard, processing 335,000 barrels of crude oil daily. It was the second blaze at the refinery this month, following a June 10 fire in which no injuries were reported.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said the refinery assured him in a Friday morning conference call that the fires were unrelated in nature and cause. He said a working group would be assembled to discuss the issues, with a focus on air quality for nearby residents. 

"I believe there is room for improvement, both in the operation of the refinery in light of two fires in as many weeks, and in the communication to residents," Kenney said.

Philadelphia Public Health spokesman James Garrow said in a news release that there were no findings pointing to immediate danger for the community living around the refinery. 

“Preliminary testing both at the site of the refinery and in the adjacent community has shown no ambient carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons (combustibles) or hydrogen sulfide," Garrow said Friday. "Samples were also taken from up- and down-wind of the refinery." 

Garrow said an analysis of tests will be released when completed, probably later Friday.

Follow Adam Duvernay on Twitter: @duvINdelaware.

Contributors: Shawn Marsh, Associated Press, and Bruce Shipkowski, Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Fire, explosions at Philadelphia oil refinery caused by butane vat; no injuries reported