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"Major industrial accident" sets off fire at ExxonMobil refinery

Firefighters extinguished a large fire at a Houston-area oil refinery that broke out early Thursday, injuring four people.

Four people were injured but everyone else on site has been accounted for, said Rohan Davis, the refinery's manager. Three of the injured were taken to hospitals by helicopter while the fourth was taken by ambulance, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said. 

Gonzalez called the situation a "major industrial accident" on social media and tweeted that "initial reports indicated some type of explosion occurred inside the plant." ExxonMobil said the four injured are in stable condition. Gonzalez's office said three were airlifted out and one was removed by ambulance.

CBS Houston affiliate KHOU-TV reported that the flames were in the part of the Baytown, Texas, facility that makes gasoline, but the rest of the refinery was still operating. The fire broke out at around 1 a.m., ExxonMobil said. Authorities have not released the names of those who were injured. 

Flames and towers of smoke are seen at ExxonMobil refinery in Baytown, Texas, near Houston, early on December 23, 2021. @_mollyfitzz

The refinery, located along the Houston Ship Channel, has the capacity to process up to 584,000 barrels of crude oil each day. It employs about 7,000 people, according to the company's website. The refinery also makes chemically based products like butyl for car tires and polypropylene for bumpers.

Officials with ExxonMobil said they're unsure what caused the explosion and that air quality monitoring has not revealed any issues. Everyone else who works at the site has been accounted for, Rohan Davis, the refinery's manager, told the Associated Press. The company said via Twitter it has set up an information hotline for local residents to call if they have questions.

Gonzalez tweeted that there didn't appear to be any need for any nearby residents to evacuate or shelter-in-place. 

The Baytown facility and employees who work there are no strangers to fires and explosions. The facility had an explosion and fire in August 2019 and another in March of that year. Local authorities had to implement a shelter-at-home order during those incidents, KHOU-TV reported

In the August incident, 66 workers were examined by medical staff. Some employees were treated for injuries; all were eventually released. A contractor, Alvaro Coronel, said he was burned so badly during that incident that he sued ExxonMobil

During the March incident, ExxonMobil was able to extinguish the fire hours after it began, but county officials said the accident continued to release toxic pollutants around the area for eight more days. Harris County later sued Exxon Mobil, accusing the company of violating the federal Clean Air Act rules.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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