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Fire at Citgo refinery lights up sky over Lemont

Updated: October 24, 2013 10:37AM



No injuries were reported early Thursday after a fire at the Citgo oil refinery in southwest suburban Lemont sent flames shooting high into the night sky.

The fire started about 7:40 p.m. Wednesday in the refinery’s crude oil unit, which was immediately shut down, according to a statement issued by Citgo spokesman Pete Colarelli.

“I know there was a lot of work being done at the refinery, something sparked, which caused the fire,” Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves said.

Citgo’s own fire department and firefighters from local suburban departments helped bring the fire under control, Colarelli said in the statement issued just after 10 p.m.

There were no injuries or evacuations, Colarelli said. The refinery is conducting air monitoring.

“The safety of our employees and the surrounding community remains our first priority.” he said.

All employees have been accounted for, Lemont’s Reaves said. Reaves said he and other Lemont trustees and former Lemont mayors had been fielding calls from concerned citizens.

“I got an ‘all clear message’ from the fire department at 9:45 p.m. Anything on the ground right now is small fires, hot spots,” said Reaves, who’d been in touch with the Ctigo fire chief.

The vast refinery operation covers land in Lemont, unincorporated areas nearby and parts of Romeoville.

The area around the refinery is not heavily populated, Reaves said.

When asked if the refinery has been a good neighbor to the citizens of Lemont, he responded: “Absolutely.”

Harold Damron, director of the Will County Emergency Management Agency, said there was little impact from the smoke Thursday night to the community surrounding the refinery because winds carried it “quite high in the air.” Still, EMA workers monitored the air past midnight, which was a couple of hours after the fire was extinguished, Damron said.

But once the fire was put out, the threat to the community was basically gone.

“Fundamentally, it was smoke,” Damron said. “Like any other smoke, you don’t want to have too much of it for too long of a time. But there was not any kind of health issue that would cause long-term concerns.”

Will County EMA received one call from a person saying the smoke was irritating. All other calls were for informaton about the fire. Damron noted that the closest house to where the fire occurred is about three-quarters of a mile away.

One reason the fire was so intense was that it continued to be fed by crude oil until refinery crews were able to cut off the supply, Damron said.

“They were trying to stop the fire, cut off the fuel to it,” he said.

“They were able to do that within a couple of hours after the start of the fire. After that, it was a matter of letting the remaining product burn off,” Damron said. “Fortunately, this was one that they were able to draw to a close just a few hours after it began.”

The fire was contained to the crude unit. But that unit is a primary point of operations, since it feeds the crude oil to the other units that refine the oil into gasoline.

Contributing: Bob Okon



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