Crisis averted at Tacoma oil refinery fire

June 15, 2015
Explosion avoided as stack filled with crude oil threatens to fall.
A crisis was averted after a fire broke out at an oil refinery in early May in Tacoma, Wash. that threatened to cause a massive explosion. 

"The employees in the area discovered a tube leak in our main crude heater on our crude distillation unit," said Refinery Manager Dan Yoder. "We had some oil that got outside the firebox and on the outside of the furnace that caught on fire, that's what caused us to call for help."

Fire crews responded to the U.S. Oil & Refining Co around 7:30 am after the fire began in the 600-foot-high production stack of a distillation unit. The unit is used to process crude into different forms of fuel, such as gasoline and diesel, by heating it up. But the leaked oil was ignited by the heater's flame, resulting in the fire that sent black smoke into the air seen by drivers in the area.

That stack was initially expected to collapse, according to Joe Meinecke with the Tacoma Fire Department. The fire department later reported that the stack would remain standing, and that the likelihood of an explosion was minimal. The fire department was called because refinery staff did not have the ability to cool down the distillation unit at the height of the fire.

Yoder said the refinery will purchase fuel for its customers from neighboring refineries, so there should be no interruption to gas supply in the region, noting that there are only five refineries in the state of Washington.

No injuries or evacuations were reported.