Fuel Fire Stabilized After San Antonio Refinery Explosion

By  | 

*Update* SAN ANTONIO (AP) - One person was critically burned and one person remains missing following an explosion and fire at a San
Antonio refinery.

San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood says they are still looking
for the driver of a truck that exploded late Wednesday morning,
causing chain reaction blasts at the AGE Refining facility on the
city's southeast side. The driver of another truck has been
hospitalized with critical burn injuries.

Hood says several other workers have been treated for injuries,
but they've accounted for everyone but the driver of the truck that

He says they're working to figure out if they can reach shut-off
valves that would cut off the fuel while they tamp the flames down.

Click Here for a live Webcam View

A black plume of smoke was visible 40 miles away as firefighters went going door-to-door urging residents to stay at least one mile from the fire, which threatens to ignite nearby fuel supplies.

“We’re trying to pull everything back until we have a better idea what’s going on,” Fire Chief Charles Hood said Monday afternoon.

“Our main concern is not the fire but the materials of combustion. It’s a very dynamic situation and we’re still trying to get our arms around it,” the chief said.

He added: “A larger explosion could basically kill a bunch of people that are close by.”

Firefighters were weighing options on how to control the blaze, which was still raging two hours later. Hood said the 100 firefighters at the scene mainly were trying to keep nearby combustible materials from igniting.

Cindy Campbell, the controller at AGE Refining Inc., said a truck started on fire while at a loading dock at their plant at Southeast Military Drive and South Presa Street.

The company, which serves the U.S. Air Force, handles jet fuel and diesel, Campbell said. The facility is the city’s only refinery.

The fire department asked police keep people at least one mile away from the site. Evacuations included buildings at Brooks City-Base and two Center for Health Care Services facilities, said an employee, who added that patients inside the clinics were taken to their homes. The clinics are located at 5802 South Presa Street at Story Lane, north of the fire. It was not immediately clear how many patients were inside the clinics when they were evacuated.

The fire also affected plane and bus travel in the area, according to officials.

Bus routes in the one-mile radius had to be redirected, said Andy Scheidt, public information coordinator for VIA. Scheidt said three VIA supervisors had five buses at the Emergency Operations Center.

“We’re doing the best we can to keep the buses moving,” Scheidt said.

And while nearby Stinson Municipal Airport remains open, flights in and out of the general aviation facility have been stopped, said spokeswoman Nora Castro.

"Because of the smoke, officials have issued a 2-mile flight restriction surrounding the refinery fire," she said.

About 350 planes use the airport daily, Castro said.

No flights at San Antonio International Airport have been affected by the fire.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality dispatched a team to the site to help the city’s hazardous materials team, which is taking the lead on the fire. The responders’ main concern is potential harm from fine particulate matter, which can be a lung irritant, and potentially hazardous hydrocarbons which are associated with any petroleum fuel fire.

Neighborhoods surrounding the fire were jarred by the explosion. The Rev. James Galvin, pastor at nearby Mission San Juan, heard a loud rumble, went outside and saw the plume of smoke.

“It’s pretty big,” said Galvin, who added no one has asked that the mission be evacuated yet. “It’s just straight up.”

From what Galvin could see, it appeared both lanes of Presa have been closed south of Military Drive.

“Cars are just realizing that the road’s blocked, so they’re taking an alterative route,” Galvin said.

However, Al Remley, chief of interpretation for the National Park Service, said he was pulling out park staff from San Juan and Mission Espada, about 3 miles south from the explosion.

“We just want to get folks out of harms way,” Remley said. “Presa Street can be a choke point for that part of San Antonio. That’s where folks can access San Juan and Espada from.”

Don Holzwort, who lives in the Symphony Lane neighborhood a mile away, on the San Antonio River, was watering the grass when he saw smoke. He thought a house across the river was on fire.

Then he heard sirens. Next, came the booms, all in a row.

“All of a sudden I started hearing the explosions: one after another,” Holzwart said. “Then, after an explosion, you could see the flames coming above the top of the trees, over the top of the trees from my house.”

Holzwort said the explosions continued for about 45 minutes, but they gradually got farther and farther apart. So far, he had not been asked to evacuate from his neighborhood, which is west of the explosion.

According to Holzwort, smoke appeared to be moving away from his house.

Mission San Jose, barely a mile away on Roosevelt Avenue, remained open for now.

“If the smoke starts to billow in the (Mission San Jose) park — which it’s not right now but if it does — we might take additional precautionary measures.”