Fire at PBF Energy Refinery In Torrance
A fire broke out Tuesday at the troubled PBF Energy-owned refinery in Torrance, the latest in a series of incidents that have spawned a network of activists concerned about the plant’s safety.
Twenty-four firefighters responded about 4:20 p.m. to the Torrance Refining Co. plant at Crenshaw Boulevard and 190th Street, Torrance fire Capt. Bob Millea said.
Three employees were evaluated, but no one was sent to hospitals, the city of Torrance said in an alert to residents.
The Torrance Fire Department sent four fire engines a truck and a battalion chief to the blaze. However, the refinery’s own system of water and foam cannons primarily was used to fight the fire and cool the equipment.
“They got water on it right away,” Millea said. “They started flowing water. The fire got put out pretty quickly.”
The flames were reported out at 4:45 p.m. By 5:15 p.m., the city of Torrance sent out an alert that said firefighters expected to “de-escalate the incident in 15 minutes.”
“All readings off-site are zero at this time,” the alert said. “The line has been isolated with the goal to burn off residual product in the line. No flaring required at this time.”
The “all-clear” was issued just before 6 p.m.
“All safety systems at the refinery operated properly and all personnel are safe and accounted for,” PBF Energy spokeswoman Betsy Brien said in a written statement.
Brien did not respond to detailed questions about the fire, and no plant official was available to discuss how the fire will impact refinery operations.
Firefighters said the fire was in the refinery’s alkylation unit, where a form of liquid hydrofluoric acid, or HF, is used in the refining process to boost the octane rating of gasoline.
The use of hydrofluoric acid has come under scrutiny from the community since a February 2015 explosion put the plant formerly owned by ExxonMobil offline and caused gas prices to soar.
That blast in the refinery’s electrostatic precipitator showered the surrounding area with debris and raised health concerns of neighbors who live nearby.
The fire Tuesday drew immediate outrage from Torrance residents.
“This is not just a fire, this is a fire at the alky unit — the one that uses hydrofluoric acid and could take out the South Bay if released. This is incredibly scary,” the community group South Bay FLARE wrote on its Facebook page.
Television news helicopters broadcast dramatic photos of the blaze.
“These new owners have put us in a very dangerous situation,” Cheryl Barnett wrote on the website. “BTW, my friends were calling me to tell me this was on the news before I even got the alert from Torrance. I want to scream.”
Federal and state regulators have uncovered multiple safety issues at the plant since the 2015 explosion, which officials said almost caused a catastrophic release of the highly toxic acid that could have killed or injured thousands.
The refinery experienced multi-day flaring events in September and October, and a software malfunction in July. Those flaring events sent large flames and thick smoke into the air from the refinery’s smokestacks.
PBF Energy took over operation of the refinery from ExxonMobil on July 1.
Marlea Ramsey, a Torrance resident who lives near the refinery, complained Tuesday that the company that owns the refinery hasn’t contacted residents to let them know about possible hazards.
“I’d like to know if the whole damn thing is going to go up if I should leave,” Ramsey said. “I have not received anything on this.”
She said she’s left her contact information with PBF multiple times, but neither she nor her son, who also lives nearby, has ever received any communication from the company. The only notices she’s received about possible danger from the refinery have been from the city of Torrance, she said.
Steve Goldsmith, chair of community group Torrance Refinery Action Alliance, which is trying to stop the plant’s use of hydrofluoric acid, said he and his wife considered leaving town when they learned of Tuesday’s fire near their home.
“When an event like this happens, it puts everybody in a great deal of stress. This is no way to live,” Goldsmith said. “This is a ticking time bomb in our community. Sooner or later it’s going to start hitting property values. There is a lot of denial going on with the city government and the owners of the refinery.”