Long Beach, CA Oil Refinery Fire, May 1958


Long Beach, Calif. (AP) -- Firemen battled today to prevent a devastating oil refinery blaze from setting off an 860,000-gallon tank of poisonous tetraethyl lead.
Flames shot high over Signal Hill all night as they raged through the $25,000,000 Hancock Oil Company refinery.
Two workmen were killed -- trapped in rivers of burning oil and gasoline.
Firemen contained the flames within the refinery grounds during the night, but a big remaining peril was the tetraethyl lead tank.
"If that tank bursts we'll have to evacuate the entire area downwind," said Fire Chief Noel Manchester. "We would be in real trouble."
Torrents of blazing oil from a ruptured tank set off a series of earth-shaking explosions, Thursday afternoon.
Workers sprinted for their lives as 14 big tanks blew up one by one.
Four hundred patients were evacuated in ambulances from Long Beach General Hospital and Long Beach Air Force Base was evacuated.
The blaze burned without letup through the night. A fire battalion chief said it would probably burn all today "until all the oil is gone."
The first blast came at 2:06 p.m. The next seconds meant life or death to many of the 125 men in the plant.
JAMES W. EDWARDS, 66, a foreman who would have retired in seven days, stopped to throw a valve to cut off the flow of oil. At the last second he ran. Near safety, he tired and slowed. Flames
englufed him.
WOODWARD LANGFORD, 45, tried to save his car, and died.
"He had his hand on the door when the car's gas tank blew up," said a co-worker. "The explosion tore off the door and it hit him, knocking him down into the burning oil. He got up and ran. But he fell down again."
Three men were injured in the explosion and in fighting the fire.
The fire started when a tank blew up while workers
were steam-cleaning it, but the cause of the blast wasn't immediately determined.
The 10-acre plant was heavily damaged. The flames left equipment warped and twisted in a landscape that resembled the scene of a bombing

The Lethbridge Hereald Alberta 1958-05-23


I was living in La Habra at

I was living in La Habra at the time of this fire...I would stand on top of my Dad's Studebaker and watch the columns of smoke. I was 7 years old.

Signal Hill Refinery fire

I was 10 years old when this event happened, we lived in Garden Grove, CA if memory serves that would be east of Long Beach. I remember the sky being very dark and smokey. We did drive to Signal Hill some time after ward, the place did resemble a war zone.

My dad was on the LBFD - and

My dad was on the LBFD - and spent time on that fire. Our home in Los Altos had to be re-painted ... I was 5 at the time ...

Hancock fire

My dad was in the Navy onboard a ship in Long Beach,, they were getting ready to go to sea we had a apartment on Pine,,,,they could see the fire and knew it was close (I was 1 month old) the Captain? let them have shore leave go home!! and my dad said "they never do that!"

Hancock fire

My great uncle was at work at Midway Fishing Tool when the fire broke out, he defied the police and crossed the road blocks, went to where he had his horses stabled and rode them out away from danger. We lived by the Airport and watch the Hill burn, big pieces of burnt metal (?) floated down in our yard.

Signal hill oil fire

I was 11 and lived on Marita St and attended Minnie Gant Elementary school. I remember walking home from school under black skies and seeing burning oil running in the gutters. Black oily ash covered everything, including cars, houses and our clothes.

The Hancock Oil fire of 1958

I was 5 years old when this happened. I was in a kids wading pool in my front yard with my friend Mike in Whittier. The sky turned black in the late afternoon and we were wondering what was happening! Our mom's told us that it was an oil fire in Long Beach. The next morning we woke up to skies that were black! It was really strange, I was just telling my wife about it and thought I would look it up and here it is! It's a memory that is hard to forget. It's also a tragedy with the 2 men who died! Anyway, that is the memory of a 5 year old, at the time.

Henry W Ortiz

PS: I still live in good ole Whittier:)

Signal Hill Fire

I remember it well. I was in the 6th grade at Tincher Elementary School. I lived on Roxanne Ave near Studebaker and Stearns. I remember the black skies and lit horizon, but most of all I remember the raining oil - everywhere! We were downwind of the fire and for a time were evacuated as a precaution. All of the houses in our neighborhood had to be repainted and anything left outside had to be either pressure cleaned or discarded.

I am teaching English in Colombia to a petroleum engineer and the topic of oil extraction and calamities came up. While this tragedy was small in scope compared with recent industry problems, it nonetheless remains a sad memory.

Hancock Fire - '58

At the time the first tank blew, my dad, an accountant, was visiting a client whose office was on Spring and Redondo. When dad got home, we saw his car -- it was covered with oil, and blood. We hoped that the blood was from birds. The oil company paid to have the car completely cleaned -- I recall that some people's cars had to be completely repainted. We lived near Spring and Studibaker, I was in 5th grade, so I was 10, I remember that the sky for 2 days was very black and it was hard to breathe -- by the third day, the sky started looking a little better, but the air was still bad for a couple more days. My dad drove us (my sister and I) over to see the area shortly after -- I remember massive devastation. I still have a pretty good memory of that event.

Close to fire

I was at the Southern California Military School at the time, first grade. The whole north sky was black and billowing north east away from us. My class gathered at the windows staring up at the boiling belly of the flames and great black smoke. Authorities evacuated us to the playground. My uncle was a welder worker at Hancock. He cut fences or gate locks down to escape. I didn't know two died till now. I was told the largest tank was a water tank but smaller ones were dangerous. Later I also visited the crumpled heaps and damaged tanks easily visible from the near open roads.