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4 dead, 3 hurt in blast, fire at US refinery

 Map locates Anacortes, Washington where an oil refinery caught fire


Map locates Anacortes, Washington where an oil refinery caught fire

An explosion and fire at a Washington state oil refinery shook homes and shot flames into the night sky early Friday, killing four people and critically injuring three others.
The fire struck the Tesoro Corp. refinery in Anacortes, about 70 miles (112 kilometers) north of Seattle on Puget Sound, at about 12:30 a.m., the company said. The blaze occurred while maintenance work was being performed and was extinguished in about 90 minutes.
Three employees are hospitalized with major burns over the majority of their bodies. Susan Gregg-Hanson, a spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, said they are one woman, 36, and two men ages 34 and 41. A 29-year-old woman died of her burns at the hospital.
The blast was the biggest fatal refinery accident since a 2005 explosion at a BP American refinery in Texas killed 15 people and injured another 170, authorities said. It comes after Tesoro was fined $85,700 a year ago for 17 serious safety and health violations.
All employees have been accounted for and investigators are trying to determine the exact cause of the blaze, said Tesoro spokesman Greg Wright in San Antonio. The extent of the damage is unknown, but parts of the refinery continue to operate, Wright said. The refinery has about 300 employees.
Nearby residents, some five miles (eight kilometers) from the complex, called Washington TV stations after midnight with reports of an explosion, saying flames were being blown by high winds.
The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board is sending six people to investigate the accident, which spokesman Daniel Horowitz called "very serious."
Horowitz said the board is "extremely concerned about safety in this sector" after a number of accidents and safety violations found at refineries by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The blast occurred in the naphtha unit of the refinery. Naphtha is a volatile, flammable liquid derived during the refining process, and the unit had undergone maintenance and was in the process of returning to operation _ a "typically dangerous" step of turning up heat and pressure, Wright said.
"It's a volatile process," Wright said. "We are diligent about being safe."
San Antonio-based Tesoro Corp. is an independent refiner and marketer of petroleum products. The Anacortes refinery can refine about 130,000 barrels of crude daily, according to the company. The U.S. Energy Information Administration Web site ranks it as the 59th largest refinery in the U.S.
Tesoro has owned the Anacortes refinery since 1998. It mainly processes Alaska North Slope crude and makes gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, mostly for Washington and Oregon.
Wright said he can't say yet how long production will be affected, but Tesoro likely can make up the loss by ramping up production at its other West Coast refineries or buying from others.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington, D.C.; and Doug Esser, Phuong Le and Donna Gordon Blankinship in Seattle.

Updated : 2021-08-02 04:11 GMT+08:00