PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –There are mounting concerns over the huge oil refinery explosion and fire in South Philadelphia. As of Saturday afternoon, a small fire was still burning.
Officials say there is no threat to public safety, but Councilwoman Helen Gym is now calling for the refinery to be shut down until a full investigation is complete.
An isolated fire continues to burn, Philadelphia Energy Solutions says they are trying to find a safe way to cut off fuel to the fire, but for now, that fire is protecting against the gas finding another ignition source — kind of like a pilot light in your home.
Another option is for the fire to burn itself and the gas out, but there’s no indication on how long that could take.
The City of Philadelphia said Saturday Philadelphia firefighters and OEM will continue to provide support to PES. The Fire Department’s Hazmat Task Force is conducting air monitoring every 2-3 hours. The monitoring is focused on the perimeter of the refinery and surrounding neighborhoods.
Concerned residents can call the PES Community Information Hotline at 215-339-7300 for updates and the status of the refining complex. PES also set up a number for residents to report damage from the incident: 800-899-1844.
The sky over South Philadelphia turned a catastrophic orange after a series of explosions rocked nearby homes and echoed through South Jersey, and the fire is not out yet.
“If we extinguish it now, whatever is blowing out of that main, blows right into the atmosphere,” Philadelphia deputy fire commissioner Craig Murphy said.
Philadelphia Energy Solutions is the largest oil refining complex on the eastern seaboard. According to the company, a fire broke out around 4 a.m. Friday on the Girard Point side of the refinery.
“The whole house shook, everything shook,” South Philly resident Anthony Condo said.
A shelter-in-place order was issued for nearby residents until 7 a.m. As the day continued, the remaining fire was fueled by a mixture of butane and propane. It was too volatile to allow firefighters to battle or for PES to shut off.
“They are erring on the side of safety and we have no issue with that,” Murphy said.
In the blast, four people suffered minor injuries, but concern soon focused on possible air quality impacts.
“Based on the result of samples taken this morning, the health department has no findings that would suggest there is a threat to the public health as a result of today’s fire,” department director with the Office of Emergency Management Noel Feleza said.
Condo lives within two miles of the refinery.
“We are being told that everything is alright but you don’t know so we just kinda hope that there are no fumes or anything making their way this way, especially now when we are all out here playing,” he said.
Ryan O’Callahan, president of the United SteelWorks Union, represents many of the refinery workers. He credits the swift action of the PES fire brigade as the reason no one was seriously hurt.
Despite PES filing briefly for bankruptcy in 2018, O’Callahan does not feel that any kind of safety measures were lacking. The cause is still under investigation.