Anacortes, WA Refinery Explosion And Fire, Apr 2010
FIVE DEAD IN ANACORTES REFINERY EXPLOSION AND FIRE.
Anacortes, Wash. - The two major March Point oil refineries whose puffing towers sit across a narrow bay from downtown Anacortes are an intimate part of this community - the source of year-round paychecks, even in a troubled economy.
But workers and their loved ones know that with those jobs comes risk.
"We have a saying out there: We don't bake cookies, we boil oil. It can be dangerous," said a 15-year refinery worker. "It's a sad day, but we know that it can happen."
The worker, speaking anonymously, is employed at the Shell refinery, immediately south of the Tesoro plant where an early Friday explosion and fire fatally injured five workers and left two others badly burned.
But he said employees at both plants know dangers exist, and he personally knew some of the six men who died in a 1998 explosion at the refinery where he works.
Friday's 12:30 a.m. explosion at the Tesoro plant was so violent that many in Anacortes felt the shock wave across Fidalgo Bay, and others heard the roar, which some compared to a jet plane or a loud clap of thunder. A fireball lit the night sky over the plant.
It took about 90 minutes to put the fire out.
The explosion and fire occurred in a bank of boilers that had been cleaned and had undergone routine maintenance and were being started up, said Michael Silverstein, assistant director of the State Department of Labor and Industries
(L. & I.) Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
Silverstein said the boilers heat fluids to high temperatures under great pressure and are "inherently vulnerable to events like this unless they are maintained and operated in a safe manner."
Inspectors got permission from structural engineers late Friday night to enter the affected areas of the refinery and begin their investigation, said Hector Castro, a spokesman for the Washington Department of Labor and Industries. They remained at the scene Saturday, but had no immediate indications about what caused the blast.
"We're really not going to be able to talk much about that until they're done, which could be several months," Castro said.
A team from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board was en route Saturday.
The blast occurred in the naphtha unit of the refinery. Naphtha is a volatile, flammable liquid derived during the refining process. Returning the unit to operation after maintenance involves the
"typically dangerous" step of turning up heat and pressure, said Greg Wright, a Tesoro spokesman in San Antonio.
Tesoro workers who died at the scene were:
DANIEL J. ALDRIDGE, 50, of Anacortes.
MATTHEW C. BOWEN, 31, of Arlington.
DARRIN J. HOINES, 43, of Ferndale.
Skagit County deputy coroner Bob Clark said each man was married.
Four more workers were flown to Harborview Medical Center, where one, 28-year-old KATHRYN POWELL, of Burlington, died later Friday morning. A second, DONNA VAN DREUMEL, 36, of Oak Harbor, died Friday evening.
The remaining victims, each of whom was reported in critical condition Saturday with extensive burns, were identified by Tesoro as MATT GUMBEL, 34, of Oak Harbor; and LEW JANZ, 41, of Anacortes.
All seven victims worked together as a team, the company said.