Refinery operating at 'normal' after tank fire

Cause unknown in storage tank blaze at ConocoPhillips
2009-12-24T20:15:00Z Refinery operating at 'normal' after tank fireTOM LUTEY and ZACH BENOIT Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette

Update: 8:40 a.m.: All units at the ConocoPhillips refinery are operating at their normal rates today while company fire crews monitor the storage tank that caught fire Thursday.

Refinery spokesperson Tiffany Wilson said today that a ConocoPhillips fire truck and firefighters remained at the tank through the night as a precautionary measure. She said the fire at the tank was extinguished at 5:50 p.m.

Billings Fire Department Battalion Chief Tim McLeod said the last city firefighters left the refinery grounds at 7:30 p.m. after assisting refinery fire crews as part of their mutual aid agreement.

Wilson said refinery officials have begun an investigation of the fire, which was contained to the storage unit that contained asphalt. She had no details about what triggered the fire and it may take a couple weeks to determine its cause.

 


Initial report: A fire in a storage tank at the ConocoPhillips refinery continued to burn into the evening Thursday after sending thick, black smoke and debris into the air above the South Side and downtown.

Tiffany Wilson, a local spokesperson for ConocoPhillips, said the tank fire started at about 3:20 p.m. at the refinery at 401 S. 23rd St.

She said the cause of the fire was not immediately known, but that an investigation will be conducted to determine the cause.  

Wilson said the Billings Fire Department and fire crews from the other area refineries assisted in fighting the fire.

“All of our employees and contractors have been accounted for, and no injuries have been reported,” Wilson said Thursday afternoon.

The tank that burned is part of ConocoPhillips’ coker facility, which allows it to break down heavier crude oil, like asphalt, into lighter petroleum products including gasoline and diesel.

Refinery and Billings fire crews focused on keeping the flames from spreading to other nearby fuel tanks.

Wilson said the tank was isolated and that the refinery continues to operate all units at normal rates.

Billings Fire Department Assistant Chief Frank Odermann described the tank as a “large product storage tank.” Wilson said the tank contained asphalt. It was not full when it caught fire, but it did collapse as it burned, he said.

Secondary containment devices kept the tank’s contents from spreading, and the fire was contained, but not out, by about 6 p.m.

“It’s contained,” Odermann said. “We still have folks down there, and I would imagine they’re going to baby-sit this one all night. Once you get it covered with foam and settled down, you’ve still got to keep it cool.”

Boyd Vopel, a Billings Fire battalion chief, said Billings firefighters were “involved in defensive activities” to keep the fire from spreading to other buildings in the area. Those efforts included spraying surrounding structures and fuel tanks with water to keep them cool as the fire raged nearby, suppression of the main fire and spraying foam between the buildings.

While a heavy, dark layer of the smoke hung over Billings for the afternoon, the fire had died down considerably by late afternoon. Several Billings Fire Department engines were cleared from the scene at 5 p.m. as crews began to get a handle on the blaze.

Along with refinery crews, four Billings fire engine crews, one truck crew and a battalion chief responded. Billings Police officers and Yellowstone County Sheriff’s deputies blocked off the streets, and at least two ambulance crews were on standby.

Traffic on Interstate 90 crawled as drivers slowed down to look at the fire. Some stopped to take photos. Troopers from the Montana Highway Patrol helped control and direct passing traffic.

The occupants of a house near the refinery said they did not hear any explosion or other noise. An alarm sounded at the refinery, repeating the words “coker fire.”

“We were standing outside smoking and heard the alarm and heard someone say “cooker fire” over the intercom. We noticed a really tall black cloud going up. One of the girls said look at that bird, but it wasn’t a bird. It wasn’t a bird, they’re little black pieces,” said Kristin Smith, a desk clerk at the nearby War Bonnet Inn.

Bud Inman, a Pizza Hut driver, was on Interstate 90 returning from a delivery when the fire took off. He didn’t hear an explosion but said the smoke and flames were huge.

“I saw it before all these cars started pulling over to watch,” he said. “I saw just a bunch of smoke and a lot of flames. I wouldn’t pull over to watch.”

A Billings Clinic spokesman cautioned against breathing smoke from the refinery fire, particularly if you have asthma or another lung disease. Even people with healthy lungs should avoid breathing the polluted air.

Wilson said air monitoring was conducted during the fire and that readings indicate no risk to public health.  

Almost one year ago to the day, two other refinery fires broke out in the Billings area. On Christmas Day 2008, ConocoPhillips and the CHS refinery in Laurel each reported fires. The Conoco fire started in a unit that helps with the production of gasoline. It did not significantly affect operations.

The CHS fire was sparked in a diesel unit early Christmas morning and was extinguished in about 90 minutes.

No serious injuries were reported in either case.

UPDATE: 5:10 p.m.

Billings fire crews are starting to return from a large blaze in a fuel storage tank at the ConocoPhillips refinery, 401 S. 23rd St.

Tiffany Wilson, a local spokesperson for ConocoPhillips, said the tank fire started at about 3:20 p.m. She said the cause of the fire was not immediately known, but that more details would be released after 5:30 p.m.

“Trained emergency response teams have responded and are working to contain the fire. Billings mutual aid has been contacted. The mutual aid consists of Billings Fire Department and fire crews from other local refineries. Right now, all of our employees and contractors have been accounted for and no injuries have been reported,” Wilson said this afternoon.

The top of the tank collapsed and the fire burned down the side of the structure, witnesses said. The tank is between the refinery and Interstate 90. Fire crews sprayed water onto surrounding fuel tanks to keep them cool, said a witness.

The fire sent thick, black smoke and debris into the air above the South Side and downtown. By 5 p.m., the smoke had died down considerably and Billings Fire Department engines were returning from the fire. Emergency reports suggested the fire was out.

Traffic on Interstate 90 crawled as drivers slowed down to look at the fire. Some stopped to take photos.

A refinery employee who spoke briefly to reporters at the gate said it is refinery policy to keep employees on site until the situation is under control. But as of 5 p.m., people were entering and leaving the refinery grounds.

The occupants of a house near the refinery said they did not hear any explosion or other noise. An alarm sounded at the refinery, repeating the words “coker fire.”

“We were standing outside smoking and heard the alarm and heard someone say cooker fire over the intercom. We noticed a really tall black cloud going up. One of the girls said look at that bird, but it wasn’t a bird. It wasn’t a bird, they’re little black pieces,” said Kristin Smith, a desk clerk at the nearby War Bonnet Inn.

Bud Inman, Pizza Hut driver, was on Interstate 90 returning from a delivery when the fire took off. He didn’t hear an explosion but said the smoke and flames were huge.

“I saw it before all these cars started pulling over to watch,” he said. “I saw just a bunch of smoke and a lot of flames. I wouldn’t pull over to watch.”

 

UPDATE 4:10 p.m.:

Fire crews are responding to a blaze in a fuel storage tank at the ConocoPhillips refinery, 401 S. 23rd St.

The top of the tank has collapsed and the fire is burning down the side of the structure, witnesses said. The tank is between the refinery and Interstate 90. At 3:45 p.m., fire crews were spraying water onto surrounding fuel tanks to keep them cool, said a witness.

The fire was reported about 3:30 p.m. as a fire at a coker unit at the refinery. An alarm began going off at the refinery at 3:45 p.m. It repeats “coker fire.”

The fire is sending thick, black smoke and debris into the air over the South Side and downtown.

Traffic on Interstate 90 was crawling as drivers slowed down to look at the fire. Some stopped to take photos.

The occupants of a house near the refinery said they did not hear any explosion or other noise.

“It was about 20 minutes ago, we were standing outside smoking and heard the alarm and heard someone say cooker fire over the intercom. We noticed a really tall black cloud going up. One of the girls said look at that bird, but it wasn’t a bird. It wasn’t a bird, they’re little black pieces,” said Kristin Smith, a desk clerk at the nearby War Bonnet Inn.

Five Billings Fire Department engines and two ambulances have now entered the refinery grounds. Three engines had been on standby about a block outside the main entrance at South 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue South. Firefighters with those engines did not have any details.

The Billings Fire Department has also paged a standby crew.

No one has left the refinery, and no one is visible inside the refinery gates. A refinery employee who spoke briefly to reporters at the gate said it is refinery policy to keep employees on site until the situation is under control. She would not give her name.

Billings Police have the streets around the refinery blocked off. 

 


4 p.m. update: Fire crews are responding to a blaze in a fuel storage tank at the ConocoPhillips refinery, 401 S. 23rd St.

The top of the tank has collapsed and the fire is burning down the side of the structure, witnesses said. The tank is between the refinery and Interstate 90. At 3:45 p.m., fire crews were spraying water onto surrounding fuel tanks to keep them cool, said a witness.

The fire was reported about 3:30 p.m. as a fire at a coker unit at the refinery. An alarm began going off at the refinery at 3:45 p.m. It repeats “coker fire.”

The fire is sending thick, black smoke and debris into the air over the South Side and downtown.

Traffic on Interstate 90 was crawling as drivers slowed down to look at the fire. Some stopped to take photos.

The occupants of a house near the refinery said they did not hear any explosion or other noise.

“It was about 20 minutes ago, we were standing outside smoking and heard the alarm and heard someone say cooker fire over the intercom. We noticed a really tall black cloud going up. One of the girls said look at that bird, but it wasn’t a bird. It wasn’t a bird, there little black pieces,” said Kristin Smith, a desk clerk at the nearby War Bonnett Inn.

Two Billings Fire Department engines and a battalion chief entered the refinery grounds, but three other Fire Department engines are on standby about a block outside the main entrance at South 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue South. Firefighters with those engines did not have any details.

The Billings Fire Department has also paged a standby crew.

No one has left the refinery, and no one is visible inside the refinery gates.

 


Initial report: Fire crews are responding to a blaze in a fuel storage tank at the ConocoPhillips refinery, 401 S. 23rd St.

The top of the tank has collapsed and the fire is burning down the side of the structure, witnesses said.

The tank is between the refinery and Interstate 90. Traffic on the highway is backed up as motorists stop to look at the fire. Some were taking photos of the blaze and plume of black smoke.

Fire crews responded about 3:30 p.m. to reports of a fire at a coker unit at the refinery.

More information will be posted here as details are available.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Follow The Billings Gazette

Popular Stories

Get weekly ads via e-mail

Deals & Offers

Featured Businesses