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Fire at Tesoro Refinery in Salt Lake City

26 October 2009

A three-person investigative team from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) will be examining a fire that occurred on the 21st October at the Tesoro refinery in Salt Lake City, Utah, following a power outage earlier in the day.

According to refinery officials, liquid hydrocarbons were released from a flare stack during an effort to restart the refinery's crude unit. The hydrocarbons were ignited in a pool fire that extended from the base of the stack and damaged a trailer and other equipment that were positioned nearby.

CSB Investigator Cheryl MacKenzie will lead the three-person team from the CSB's Western Regional Office in Denver, Colorado.

CSB Chairman Bresland said the CSB inquiry would seek to determine if there are any similarities to the 2005 accident at the BP Texas City refinery, which occurred when flammable liquid erupted from a blowdown stack during a unit startup, leading to a massive vapor cloud explosion that killed 15 workers in nearby trailers and injured 180 others. The CSB recommended numerous changes to regulations, enforcement, and industry safety practices following that accident.

"Nearly four years after the disaster in Texas City, there continues to be a disturbing number of fires, explosions, and releases at the nation's refineries. These events endanger workers and the public and can disrupt the supply of needed transportation fuels," said Bresland. "A sudden release of flammable liquid from a flare or blowdown stack poses a potential risk to people, equipment, and the environment and warrants a close look."

No injuries were reported in the fire at Tesoro, but smoke and flames were visible over a wide area in Salt Lake City, and an interstate highway and a commuter rail line were closed temporarily. Refinery and municipal firefighters extinguished the blaze within an hour.

The CSB continues to investigate the serious flash fire that occurred in January 2009 at the Silver Eagle refinery in nearby Woods Cross, Utah, with a final report expected early in 2010.

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