PHILADELPHIA  — A fire in a vat of butane at a 150-year-old refinery complex in turned the early-morning sky a bright orange and yellow and awakened startled residents with explosions that shook homes on both sides of the Delaware River Friday.

The fire broke out at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex in the southwest area of Philadelphia around 4 a.m., spokeswoman Cherice Corley said.

Thick, black smoke billowed across the city when the fire started.

"The whole sky lit up yellow," Antonio Tindle told 6 ABC Action News. "The third explosion rocked my truck. The whole truck started to rock and it got kind of scary," he said.

By 7 a.m., the fire was contained but not under control, said Craig Murphy, the city's deputy fire commissioner.

Nearby residents were asked to shelter in place. There were no reports of injuries, although one employee was checked out after complaining of chest pains.

"Felt the explosion from the Sunoco refinery in Cherry Hill. Rattled the house, scary stuff," Armand DiVite tweeted. Sarrah Mars on Twitter said she smelled what she thought was charcoal in Gloucester City.

Lisa Dawn in Delran said on Facebook she heard the explosion and thought it was an earthquake. Phil Morris posted that that blast woke him up in West Deptford.

People in New Jersey may also smell the smoke from the explosion although the worst of it has passed, according to WPG chief meteorologist Dan Zarrow said

"So far this morning, winds have been out of the west-southwest, blowing the smoke toward Center City and up the Pennsylvania side of the river. However, we've now flipped to a northwesterly wind, so some of that residual plume could drift over Camden and Gloucester," Zarrow said.

Zarrow said the initial fire plume and the explosion were both captured on weather radar.

Initial refinery fire on weather radar (Radarscope)
Radar image of refiney fire explosion (Radarscope)

The Philadelphia Deptartment of Public Health in a statement to 6 ABC Action News there is no threat to the surrounding community. Air samples found "no ambient carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons (combustibles), or hydrogen sulfides." The agency said the results from other samples is pending.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection has not yet returned a message from the Townsquare News Network early Friday morning.

Philadelphia Energy Solutions says the oil refining complex is the largest on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, producing 335,000 barrels of crude oil daily.

It was the second blaze at the refinery this month, following a June 10 fire in which no injuries were reported.

The cause of Friday's fire was unclear.

Murphy said a vat of butane ignited and eventually exploded. A series of smaller explosions happened as the fire worked its way through the tangle of pipes carrying fuel across the complex. Refinery emergency response crews and the Philadelphia Fire Department responded to the scene.

Plant and city firefighters were cooling down nearby tanks to prevent the fire from spreading.

"We're here in support of the Philadelphia Energy Solution (crews)," Murphy said during a media briefing at the site. "The fire is now different from when we got here."

 

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report

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