USA – Exxon Refinery Under Threat From 6000 Acres Wildfire
The blaze was only 5 percent contained as of the morning of June 17. Santa Barbara County officials declared a state of emergency at 10:10 a.m. June 17 because of ongoing evacuations and the threat the fire still poses to crop land, homes and ExxonMobil’s Las Flores Canyon oil refinery.
Officials have started an investigation into the cause of the fire, but it is not a criminal investigation, they said at a news conference.
“While the size of the fire more than doubled in size in the last 24 hours, there’s been only minor structural loss and no civilian or firefighter injuries,” said Eric Peterson, Santa Barbara County’s fire chief.
Officials said mandatory evacuations are in place in some areas affected by the fire. There has been substantial damage to avocado, lemon and olive crops as well as cattle grazing land.
“That assessment of the damage is underway right now,” said Doreen Farr, Santa Barbara County 3rd District supervisor. “Due to the continued evacuations in place, the very real potential for additional evacuations, also the potential for further damage to agriculture and natural resources, the need for a local emergency is necessary.”
Agriculture is a $1.8 billion industry in Santa Barbara County. Cathy Fisher, the Santa Barbara County agricultural commissioner, said that as of 10:30 a.m., she had received reports of damage to farmland in the Venadito Canyon and Refugio Canyon areas.
“We’re in the process of working with our commodity groups and gathering statistics and information about the value of those losses so far,” Fisher said.
About 100 horses had also been evacuated to the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara because of the fire.
Robert Lewin, an emergency manager with Santa Barbara County, said impacts on the economy after last summer’s Refugio oil spill are a major concern.
“We need to do the best we can to get this fire out as soon as we can so we can make sure that tourism’s needs are addressed,” Lewin said. “It’s a major industry in the county.”
Eric Hjelstrom, a California State Parks superintendent that monitors parks around Santa Barbara including El Capitan and Refugio state beaches, said the small water treatment plant burned down sometime overnight. The plant provides drinking and bathing water for campers at El Capitan State Beach.
On June 16, officials canceled reservations at El Capitan State Beach through June 24 because of safety concerns.
The Exxon facility appears to be unharmed at this point. Exxon Mobil is monitoring the situation, and the company still has employees on site performing fire protection activities. Up until last month, the refinery was holding onto over 425,000 barrels of crude that were stranded after the rupture.
The weather service issued excessive heat warnings for areas in the U.S. Southwest, including California, Nevada and Arizona and New Mexico.
The New Mexico National Guard has been activated to help fight the blaze, also known as the Dog Head Fire, which still remains uncontained, Gov. Susana Martinez announced Thursday.
Separately, the Sherpa fire grew in size overnight as sustained 40 miles per hour winds pushed the blaze across areas that hadn’t burned in 60 years, officials said.
While firefighters attacked the flames from the ground, air tankers and helicopters were again making drops on the fire after daylight on Thursday, focusing on the east side of the fire. Los Angeles County fire officials now say a brushfire in the Calabasas neighborhood is threatening about 3,000 homes.
For a second night, the US 101 freeway was closed in the area, but was reopened early Friday.
A wildfire burns in Los Padres National Forest, on Wednesday, June 15, 2016, north of Santa Barbara, in Goleta, Calif. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office says mandatory evacuations have been ordered for Refugio Canyon.
Chief Peterson said flames came close to an oil facility Wednesday night, but there was good defensible space around the property and the facility was not damaged. “There was a lot of fire around it during the night, but the structure protection was effective”. Still, mandatory evacuations were in place for multiple California communities near the Los Padres National Forest.
Hot, dry weather across the Western U.S. challenged firefighters.
The blaze broke out Wednesday afternoon and has been churning through vegetation that hasn’t burned in decades. “We want to make sure New Mexicans understand that”.
However, a small community in Navajo County remained evacuated and thousands of other residents were told to be prepared in case they had to leave.
Blazes in California, Arizona and New Mexico threatened communities with thousands of residents where so far hundreds of homes have been evacuated.