A fire at an Arco refinery in Carson that created a plume of smoke visible for miles Friday has forced a partial shutdown of the second largest refinery in Los Angeles County. Company officials said there were no injuries.
Leigh Noda, Arco manager of refining technology, said the fire was probably caused by a leak in a pipe cap in a 100-foot-tall cylindrical fire box used to heat partly refined petroleum for the vacuum distillation unit.
No damage estimate was available, but refinery officials have shut down part of the refinery, which normally processes 85,000 barrels a day, and said they expect it to remain down three or four days. Noda said the partial shutdown will cost "a lot."
The refinery's total capacity is 230,000 barrels a day--second largest in Los Angeles County after Chevron's El Segundo refinery, which can process 435,000 barrels.
In the heater that caught on fire, the heavier oils from a first-stage distillation are run through a fire-brick structure in 124 six- and eight-inch-diameter pipes that are typically under 100 pounds of pressure per square inch.
Noda said that a leak in the cap of one of the pipes may have spewed hot, flammable mixture headed for the vacuum unit directly into the flames of the heater.
Employees in the immediate area were evacuated during the fire. About one hour after the fire broke out, refinery operations except near the fire returned to normal.