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4 People Injured In Major Explosion, Fire At Oil Refinery In South Philadelphia, Officials Say

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - A major explosion rocked a South Philadelphia oil refinery, sparking a massive fire early Friday morning. Video of the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery shows as it burns right into the early morning sky.

Officials say five people were injured in the blast, all suffering minor injuries. As far as the fire, it's still not under control, and according to fire officials, Philadelphia Energy Solutions isn't comfortable turning off the main that's fueling the fire.

The fire broke out at the 150-year-old refinery complex on the 3100 block of Passyunk Avenue, just after 4 a.m. and reached three-alarms, Philadelphia Fire Department Deputy Fire Commissioner Craig Murphy said during a press conference Friday morning.

Murphy said a vat of butane exploded at Philadelphia Energy Solutions, sparking the fire. The flames were contained but as of 9 a.m. fire crews were still battling the blaze.

Eyewitness News spoke to an employee who was near the refinery as the explosion happened.

"We heard something. We thought it was thunder because it was raining and somebody was out in the back and said the refinery was on fire," employee Bob Braciszewski said. "A few of us went out back and were looking at it and as we were standing there something else blew up. We moved our cars around the front and we just stood there waiting what to do and they finally said everybody just go home. And while we were standing there something else blew up and we just got out of there... It was kind of scary, you know."

Residents nearby were asked to shelter-in-place due to smoke in the area. The shelter-in-place was lifted around 7 a.m. after a test determined the air in the area was free of ambient carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons (combustibles), or hydrogen sulfides.

PES and the Philadelphia Health Department will continue to monitor air quality.

Residents were also asked to avoid the area of Passyunk and 26th Street due to amount of fire apparatus and first responders.

Residents reported hearing and feeling the booms as flames shot into the sky, turning night into day. The blast was felt as far as New Jersey. Employees reported hearing at least three explosions.

refinery fire resident photo
Seen from River Drive in Westville, N.J. (Photo courtesy Jeffrey Stefan)

It's the second fire at the refinery in one month, following a June 10 fire in which no injuries were reported.

According to its website, the complex produces 335,000 barrels of crude oil daily. Philadelphia Energy Solutions says the oil refining complex is the largest on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

The incident briefly closed the Platt Bridge in both directions, a portion of I-76 and area bridges. They have since reopened.

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