Vapor Cloud Ignited Tesoro Refinery Fire, Investigator Says

Last Friday’s <"">deadly fire at the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes, Wash. is being blamed on a vapor cloud of hydrocarbons that ignited, creating a large fireball. The accident, which killed five workers, is the worst accident at a U.S. refinery in five years.

On Saturday, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) began investigating the accident, which started in the catalytic reformer naptha hydrotreater unit of the complex while 10 workers were performing maintenance work in the area. The CSB is an independent federal agency that investigates major industrial accidents.

Though it was initially called an explosion, investigators are moving away from that description. Lead investigator Robert Hall said yesterday that although people living in Anacortes reported feeling their windows shake, there is no significant blast damage at the site. The area where the accident occurred extensively burned, but had a relatively small footprint, Hall said.

The CSB investigation is expected to take about 18 months to complete, Hall said.

The Tesoro refinery, which sets on Puget Sound, is located about 70 miles north of Seattle. According to the Tesoro Web site, it has the capacity to refine about 120,000 barrels of crude oil daily.

In addition to the five fatalities, two other workers were injured in the blaze. They are being treated for serious burns at the Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. One of the injured workers remains in critical condition, while the other has been upgraded to serious.

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