TACOMA, Wash. – A crude oil fire at the U.S. Oil and Refining Co. burned for almost two hours Wednesday, sending a plume of thick black smoke over the Port of Tacoma, but it didn’t cause any injuries. One witness described the scene as “reminiscent of a Mount St. Helens explosion.”
Along with the smoke, tall flames could be seen shooting from the top of the smokestack in the early stages of the blaze.
A company spokesperson said the blaze started at about 7 a.m. when one of the tubes that carries crude oil through a heat source that separates the oil began to leak.
The operators quickly turned off the valve to stop the flow, but oil that was still in the tube caught fire, sending black smoke up the tall stack.
The refinery crew decided not to extinguish the blaze, but let it burn off for safety reasons.
Tacoma Fire Department crews responded to the scene, at 3001 Marshall Ave., and assisted with efforts to cool down the stack as the oil burned off.
The smoke and flames gradually diminished as the crude oil burned off. The fire was out within two hours, although some residual flam burned out the top of the stack for about 30 more minutes.
Witnesses said the smoky fire was spectacular in its initial moments.
“It was kind of reminiscent of a Mount St. Helens explosion – just real dark, billowing, black … you can definitely see some flames over there,” one eyewitness told KOMO Newsradio. “I would say, from my perspective, those flames are 20 to 30 feet high. … This is pumping out a significant volume of smoke.”
No injuries were reported, and no one was reported to be in danger.
The refinery processes crude oil and turns it into transportation products, including gasoline, jet fuel and asphalt primarily for the south Puget Sound market.