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Refinery Fire Casts Huge Pall


A huge mushroom of black smoke rose from a Carson refinery fire late Monday afternoon, blanketing Long Beach in a dark, sooty haze and traveling well into Orange County.

No injuries were reported in the spectacular blaze, which erupted in a coker unit at the Tosco Corp. refinery about 4:50 p.m. The cause was under investigation.

There were no evacuations and the fire was nearly out by 8 p.m.

The billowing smoke, which rose to 3,000 feet, was the most dramatic aspect of the blaze. "As long as it remains in the atmosphere it's not a great concern," said Los Angeles County Fire Department spokesman Michael Brown. "But we're telling people to stay indoors and close their windows."

He added that county health and hazardous waste teams were testing the smoke, which rained soot and obscured the sun in some parts of the South Bay.

About 80 county firefighters fought the flames, containing them by 7:45 p.m. Firefighting teams from the county and city of Los Angeles planned to remain at the site overnight.

Tosco spokesman Jeff Callender said it was unclear how much damage the fire had done to the operation, which refines about 130,000 barrels of crude oil a day. "I could not say what percentage of our production has been affected."

The Carson refinery, with 160 workers, is connected to another operated by Tosco in Wilmington.

The Connecticut-based company, the largest independent refiner in the nation, owns the Circle K convenience store chain and 76 brand of gas stations. It is being acquired by Phillips Petroleum, raising some concerns that the $7-billion deal could push up crude oil prices on the West Coast.

Tosco paid the state more than $462,000 in penalties related to a 1999 fire that killed four workers at the company's former Avon refinery in the Bay Area.

That year there was a fire at Tosco's Wilmington facility, but it was quickly doused with no injuries.

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