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WATCH: Massive Fire, reports of explosions at South Philly Refinery

PortandTerminal.com, June 21, 2019

Residents reported debris falling from the sky blocks away from the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery. Hazmat and fire crews at scene now

A massive fire and series of explosions rocked a South Philadelphia refinery complex, the largest on the East Coast, early Friday morning. The blast jolted people from their sleep miles from the scene, but no injuries were reported.

More footage of the fire and explosions at the refinery this morning

The fire broke out at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex around 4 a.m., spokeswoman Cherice Corley said. Some residents in Philadelphia said the explosions knocked art off their walls. The blasts were felt as far as South Jersey.

“We’ve just had an explosion with heavy fire; [the commander] is requesting a third alarm for this location,” a fire official relayed to dispatchers shortly after the largest blast.

“I thought it was a meteor or something” after seeing a mushroom-shaped cloud rising from the facility.

One resident who lives next to the complex said “I thought it was a meteor or something” after seeing a mushroom-shaped cloud rising from the facility.

Deputy fire commissioner Craig Murphy said a vat of butane had ignited and eventually exploded. A series of smaller explosions happened as the fire worked its way through the tangle of pipes carrying fuel across the complex.

The refinery complex processes roughly 335,000 barrels of crude oil per day, about 14 million U.S. gallons, and is one of the largest refineries on the east coast, according to the company’s website.

A worker was on site when the explosion happened, but was far enough away to avoid serious harm, Murphy said.

A plume of thick, black smoke billowed east from the large complex near Philadelphia International Airport and over portions of South Philadelphia, the Delaware River and into South Jersey.

The fire is still burning as of 9:55 am EST

The smoke could be dangerous, said Peter DeCarlo, a Drexel professor and air-quality expert. “Immediate exposure can trigger asthma and other issues,” he said.

The refinery is the largest singnle source of pollution in the Philadelphia area even when there isn’t an emergency. “If it were me, what I would do is leave the area for as much of the day as possible,” DeCarlo said.

City emergency management sounded early warning sirens at 5:30 a.m. and issued a shelter-in-place for the area immediately around the complex. Though the area is heavily populated, no evacuation orders were issued.

The shelter-in-place was lifted shortly after 7 a.m.

Roads in the area of the fire have been closed to allow first responders space to work and protect drivers. The Platt Bridge and portions of Interstate 76 were closed temporarily as fire crews worked to contain the blaze.

One person said on Twitter that they were on I-95 when the explosion happened. “Could feel the heat right through the car,” the person tweeted. 

The fire could be seen for miles. Some neighbors in South Philadelphia said debris rained from the sky into their neighborhoods after the explosions.

Photo: Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex has been the scene of two other recent incidents

The complex is the largest refinery on the East Coast and employs about 1,000 people. Many Philadelphians still call it the Sunoco refinery, though it is now owned by Philadelphia Energy Solutions, a partnership that includes Sunoco.

The refinery processes 335,000 barrels of crude oil every day at two plants in the complex — Girard Point and Point Breeze. The fire broke out at the Girard Point portion. Natural gas is also processed at the facility.

This is 2.5 miles from me and although I am not in the “shelter in place” zone I can still see the smoke billowing across the sky. Glad it’s a work from home day!

Philladelphia resident reaction on Twitter

Friday’s fire comes nearly two weeks after another incident at the same complex. On June 10, a small fire broke out at the facility. No one was hurt, but it reignited protests by a group of environmentalists and community members who were concerned about the plant’s safety. Another fire broke out at the complex in 2015. 

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