Two alarm fire at Memphis Valero refinery

Image submitted to My 5 by an Action News 5 viewer.
Image submitted to My 5 by an Action News 5 viewer.
Image submitted to My 5 by an Action News 5 viewer.
Image submitted to My 5 by an Action News 5 viewer.

(WMC-TV) – A two alarm fire at the Valero Refinery sent a huge plume of black smoke into the sky just before 7:30 Friday morning.

Firefighters were told there was a major explosion and people from the surrounding areas reported feeling the blast.

"I was inside a three story building when I hard a big boom and the whole building shook," said Chris Haley, who was three miles away.

An Action News 5 crew was at LeMoyne Owen College, five miles from the refinery, and felt the explosion.

Fortunately, officials say all of the company's workers are accounted for and no firefighters were injured.

"We are happy to say that there are no injuries," said Wayne Cook with the Memphis Fire Department.

Investigators said the problem started with a heater box in a unit that boils crude and separates it into gasoline, diesel and other products.

"We have not determined the cause at this point," said Cook.

The fire was brought under control shortly before 8:00 a.m.

"Refinery personnel have monitored air quality, and no impact to the community is expected," said Valero spokesman Bill Day. "Both crude units at the plant have been shut down, and refinery personnel are conducting a damage assessment at this time."

Valero did tests monitoring the air quality in Memphis.  They said everything checked out fine and there is no danger to the community.

Thomas McCrary was working construction at the time of the blast.  He snapped a photo of the explosion.

"It was kind of like a bomb," said McCrary.  "I've never seen nothing like that."

The refinery operates two crude units.  The one that exploded will remain shut down until the company can make repairs.  The second is not damaged, and Valero said there will not be a supply shortage.

"Valero has 15 refineries," said Day.  "We're able to supply networks all across the country.  We'll bring supplies in, make sure the markets are stocked."

Valero sent a team from its corporate headquarters to investigate the cause.  They said they will not reopen the crude unit until they are confident it will not cause another explosion.

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