Crews douse fire at Wash.'s largest oil refinery

February 18, 2012 - 2:35 AM

FERNDALE, Wash. (AP) — Fire crews doused a dramatic blaze that broke out Friday at Washington's largest oil refinery, sending up towering flames and creating a thick plume of black smoke visible for miles.

Workers at the BP Cherry Point refinery near Blaine in northwest Washington's Whatcom County were evacuated shortly after the fire started at about 2:30 p.m. in a tower on the refinery's south side. The fire was out by 4 p.m., BP spokesman Scott Dean said.

The Bellingham Herald reported that about 100 evacuated workers gathered in a parking lot to watch the flames.

All employees and contractors who were at the site were safe and accounted for, Dean said, although he could not provide a precise figure Friday night. One contractor complained of knee pain and went to a local hospital for observation, the spokesman said.

Dean couldn't say what the tower is normally used for or what it contained.

Television footage showed fire crews sending several streams of water onto the fire and also using retardant foam to douse the tower.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the fire or the extent of damage.

The refinery continues to produce products for customers, Dean said, adding it was "too soon to speculate on future supply impacts."

The one-square-mile refinery employs more than 800 people and can process as much as 230,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Alaska. From that amount, the refinery has the ability to produce 2.5 million gallons of jet fuel, 3.5 million gallons of gasoline, 2.2 million gallons of diesel, 360,000 gallons of butane and 140,000 gallons of propane.

According to the BP website, the refinery is the largest supplier of fuel for the Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, British Columbia, airports. It also provides 20 percent of Washington state's gasoline, the website said.

The refinery was fined more than $69,000 in 2010 for 13 serious safety violations, state Department of Labor and Industries spokesman Hector Castro said. He added that all five of the state's refineries have been fined for safety regulations.

Inspectors were heading to Cherry Point to investigate Friday's fire.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was sending an air-monitoring crew to make sure there was no danger to those nearby, EPA spokesman Mike MacIntyre said.

Mike Abendhoff, another BP spokesman, said the refinery's own air-monitoring crew had already begun tests and he had no reports of danger from fumes.