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 awake miles from the scene, but no major injuries were reported.
The blaze at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery erupted shortly after 4 a.m. 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. It was later lifted.
The blasts were felt as far as South Jersey. The largest blast was so strong that the GOES-16 meterological satellite recorded it from space.
The fire was contained on the property of the refinery off Passyunk Avenue, fire officials said shortly before 6 a.m. The fire was still burning as of 9:08 a.m., a spokeswoman for the refinery said in an email.
The spokeswoman said refinery officials have not determined what product is burning, but believe it is propane. That differs from official reports by top Philadelphia fire officials.
At a news conference, Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said a vat of butane had ignited and eventually exploded. A series of smaller explosions erupted as the fire worked its way through the tangle of pipes carrying fuel across the complex. In all, three explosions took place.
Workers were on site at the time of the explosion, but were far enough away to avoid serious harm, Murphy said. Four refinery staff members suffered minor injuries and were treated at the site, a refinery spokeswoman said.
Large pieces of debris were thrown blocks away and rained down onto streets and traffic lights. 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 Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery is the largest single source of particulate pollution in the Philadelphia area even when there isn't an emergency.
The commercial refining complex, which came out of bankruptcy last August, 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 Carlyle Group owns 10% of the facility and Energy Transfer Partner has an 8% stake, sources told CNBC.
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. Gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and petrochemicals are also produced at the plant.
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.
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 and prompted a...