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Fire at Tacoma oil refinery sends smoke to sky

A fire burns at the U.S. Oil and Refining Co. facility Wednesday in Tacoma. (Associated Press)
A fire burns at the U.S. Oil and Refining Co. facility Wednesday in Tacoma. (Associated Press)

TACOMA – A crude oil fire at the U.S. Oil and Refining Co. burned for almost two hours Wednesday, sending plumes of black smoke over the Port of Tacoma, but it didn’t cause any injuries, according to a company spokesman.

“All of the operators got the nonessential personnel out quickly and got things isolated,” said Dan Yoder, spokesman for the refinery, which processes crude oil and turns it into transportation products, including gasoline, jet fuel and asphalt primarily for the south Puget Sound market.

The blaze started at 7 a.m. when one of the tubes that carries crude through a heat source that separates the oil began to leak, Yoder said.

The operators quickly turned off the valve to stop the flow, but oil that was still in the tube caught fire, he said.

That fire sent the black smoke up the tall stack, he said.

Instead of trying to put out that fire, they let it burn off for safety reasons, he said.

“From a safety perspective, it was better to isolate the source of the fuel and let it burn out,” he said.

“Once they started the shutdown, there were no concerns about an explosion.”

The company’s operators, who have fire-fighting training, were joined by the Tacoma Fire Department, and ran water on the lower stack while the fire burned off, reducing the risk of a collapse, he said.

They had the fire out within two hours, although “a little residual flame” burned out the top of the stack for about 30 minutes more.

“The major concern was over by 9:15,” he said. “We impacted the environment with the heavy smoke, but there were no injuries and everyone is accounted for.”

 

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