LIMA — Around 6:09 a.m. Saturday, an explosion at the Husky Lima Refinery shook many nearby residents awake and startled.
Though it may be a while before officials know what exactly sparked the incident, it is clear that an isocracker at the refinery exploded.
Miraculously, there were no injuries from the incident.
Mel Duvall, spokesman for Huskey Refinery, said an isocracker is an “intermediate processing unit — or upgrading unit — which takes heavier oils from the front end crude stream and ‘cracks’ the heavy molecules to make gasoline and diesel.”
The explosion launched shrapnel and other ash throughout the immediate area near the refinery, said Russ Decker, director of Allen County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, leaving large pieces of metal throughout the immediate radius.
The highly noticeable flames and plumes of smoke of the burning oil drew attention to people all over the area.
Though traffic was restricted in the area during the majority of the morning Saturday, residents in the area were safe in their homes.
Decker said three agencies tested the air quality on scene and the Allen County EMA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Husky officials’ meters all read negative for dangerous chemicals. Decker said the incident nor byproduct of the incident is harmful to residents.
Officials with the U.S. EPA were unavailable for comment Saturday evening.
According to Duvall, the fire was “essentially out” at the refinery Saturday afternoon. Initially, Duvall said the fire started on a processing unit.
Duvall said the refinery is more than 100 years old, but is one of the most state-of-the-art in system updates, stating the systems were pristine.
Decker said there was an extreme concern early Saturday that the fire would spread to other areas of the refinery, however those fears never became a reality.
The role of the EMA was to provide assistance to agencies who would need the EMA’s help, however Decker said agencies were able to contain the fire on-scene without further resources.
Decker said there was no immediate danger, with the biggest impact being the loud whooshing noise heard nearby. Sgt. Andy Green later posted on the Lima Police Department’s Facebook page that the wooshing sound was steam.
A major obstacle for the Shawnee Township Fire Department was the cold temperatures, Platoon Chief John Norris said. Water had to be constantly moving on the ground or else it would freeze, posing a significant danger to responders.
However, in one way the weather acted as an aid to the situation, Decker said. Windy conditions helped dissipate the burning oil and fumes. He did acknowledge it also spread the smell of smoke farther.
Some residents reported ash and debris in their yards. Decker said the ash was hydrocarbons, a product from the burning material. Officials ask residents to not handle the material, as Husky is prepared to address the byproduct. If neighbors have concerns or want the debris cleaned up, they’re asked to call Husky’s local number, 419-226-2300.
The incident also caused an electrical outage, affecting the facility’s industrial neighbors. PotashCorp reported the PCS Nitrogen facility lost power, shutting down several units. The facility is restarting the units over the next few days. The company warned residents they may hear elevated noise levels during the shutdown and startup.
Decker said the explosion was worse than any other he’s dealt with in his 17 years as EMA director, including the 2006 explosion of an oil tanker on Allentown Road. He noted that incident involved 10,000 gallons of fuel and this was “significantly more than that.”
Norris said the tanker held 9,000 to 10,000 gallons of oil, however the isocracker was pumping about that same amount every minute.
Norris said his firefighters will remain on scene for as long as 36 hours to provide aid.
In terms of next steps for the refinery, it’s too early to tell, Duvall said.
“We are currently evaluating next steps,” he said, adding a statement would be given Sunday.