Great Falls Refinery fire

A black plume that came from Calumet Refinery in Great Falls on Thursday, triggering road closures and an investigation into a possible fire and explosion.

A small explosion and fire at a refinery in Great Falls on Thursday blocked traffic and led to evacuations at several surrounding businesses.

The explosion at Calumet Montana Refinery was reported just after 1 p.m., said Great Falls Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Marshal Jeremy Jones. 

No one was injured from the incident and crews were evacuated from the plant, Jones said. He didn't know what caused the explosion but said he believed a piece of machinery had failed. 

The cause of the explosion was under investigation, according to a Thursday afternoon press release from Calumet. All plant personnel were accounted for and no one was injured, the press release stated.

Great Falls Police Department, Great Falls Fire Rescue, Montana Highway Patrol and Black Eagle Volunteer Fire Department responded to the scene at 1900 10th St. N.E. in Great Falls. Plumes of black smoke could be seen coming from the refinery.

Jones said the small explosion led to a fire, which was quickly put out by the facility's internal fire suppression system and fire brigade. Great Falls Fire Rescue responded to the scene but did not help fight the fire, he said. Fire Rescue and the police set up a perimeter along the refinery. 

All roads were closed around the refinery, and the nearby schools, North Middle and Sacajawea, were being sheltered in place, according to a social media post from the Great Falls Police Department.

Roads were closed surrounding the area including the Ninth Street Bridge, Black Eagle Volunteer firefighter Tony Spek said. Traffic was blocked by Montana Highway Patrol and Black Eagle while Great Falls Police and Fire Rescue worked at the refinery.

The fire was under control around 2:30 p.m., he said. Spek felt the blast from the volunteer department before 911 calls started pouring in, he said. 

Great Falls police recommended people in the area to shelter in their homes and businesses for the time being. Spek said both Walmart and the Mountain View Co-op nearby had been evacuated.

As of about 2:30 p.m. the shelter in place had been lifted for the public schools, according to a Facebook post. Bus and pick-up delays were expected due to the traffic congestion, it said. Parents picking up children would need to come from the west or north direction, police advised.

Air quality was determined to be safe in the immediate area, according to the police Facebook post.

An update around 3:15 p.m. from the Great Falls Police Department's Facebook said traffic would resume as normal shortly. The 15th Street bridge was already open to traffic both ways. 

Calumet Montana Refining in Great Falls has a crude oil throughput capacity of approximately 25,000 barrels per day, according to its parent company's website. It produces gasoline, middle distillates and asphalt, which it sells in Washington, Montana, Idaho and Alberta, Canada.

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