"I Thought It Was A Meteor" - Massive Explosion, Fire Rocks South Philadelphia Oil Refinery

Update (7:25 am ET): The refinery fire is confined and being addressed, but is not yet under control, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Fire Department said Friday.

Though shelter in place orders for the area around the refinery have been lifted.

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A massive fire has erupted Friday at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in Southwest Philadelphia, the oldest continuously operated refinery on the East Coast, shaking nearby homes and sending clouds of thick smoke into the air. An explosion that started the fire could reportedly be heard all the way in South Jersey.

Fire

Some residents in Philly told local TV news that the explosions knocked art off their wall, according to NBC 10. The fire, which has been burning since 4 am, was said to be contained as of 6 am (though hours later, the fire had yet to be completely put out).

A leak at the unit was discovered before the explosion, according to media reports.

Roads in the area have been closed to allow first responders space to work and protect drivers. That includes the ramps from Interstate 76 to South Philadelphia. The Platt Bridge reopened just before 6 am.

One passer-by said they were on I-95 when the explosion happened: "Could feel the heat right through the car," the individual said on social media. Some homeowners who live near the refinery said debris from the blasts rained down on their homes. A cloud of thick black smoke blanketed Center City and South Philly.

One resident who lives near the complex described the explosion as a "meteor". "I thought it was a meteor or something" after seeing the mushroom cloud rising from the facility."

In addition to being the oldest, it is also the largest refinery complex on the East Coast. It employs about 1,000 people. Many in the city still call it the Sunoco refinery, though it is now owned by Philadelphia Energy Solutions, a partnership that includes Sunoco.

The refinery processes 335,000 barrels of crude oil every day at two plants in the complex, Girard Point and Point Breeze. The fire reportedly started in the Point Breeze section. Natural gas is also processed at the facility.

The refinery dates back to the 19th Century opening a year after the Civil War ended.

The Philadelphia Fire Department asked residents and businesses east of the fire in South Philadelphia to shelter-in-place: Orders were given for the following areas (as of 7:20 am, the shelter in place orders had been lifted).

  • 26th Street to the west
  • Schulykill Expressway to the north
  • I-95 to the south
  • 22nd Street to the east

Analysts said the incident could impact supplies of gasoline and jet fuel: two products that are processed at the refinery.

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