No injuries, off-site impact after significant fire at ExxonMobil refinery

Published: Feb. 12, 2020 at 9:44 PM CST
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A significant fire broke out at an ExxonMobil refinery in Baton Rouge late Tuesday night.

First reports of the fire began coming in around 11:50 p.m. on Feb. 11. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

There were no injuries and no off-site impact, officials say.

“The fire that occurred at the ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Refinery has been extinguished. There were no injuries much in part to the swift and safe response from our ExxonMobil volunteer fire team. ExxonMobil will continue to actively monitor the facility fence line and air quality in the surrounding areas of the North Baton Rouge community. All readings are non-detect. We apologize for any inconvenience and concern this incident may have caused. We will continue to keep you updated with information as it becomes available,” said Danny Lee, spokesperson for ExxonMobil.

The fire was extinguished around 6:40 a.m., according to ExxonMobil public and government affairs spokesperson, Megan Manchester.

Lee says the company notified neighboring residents and local officials in the early morning hours of Feb. 12.

“ExxonMobil began outreach to nearby neighbors and local elected officials at approximately 12:20 a.m. on Wednesday, February 12 via phone calls, emails and the automated dialer notification system. The automated dialer notification system sent a notice to all residents within a 1.5 mile radius,” Lee said.

Crews with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) and ExxonMobil continue to monitor air quality around the facility. Lee also says an investigation will be conducted to determine the cause of the fire while operations continue at the refinery and chemical plant.

“As a matter of practice, we do not comment on the operational status of specific units. We continue to meet contractual commitments and expect to meet all customer commitments,” Lee said in a statement released Wednesday evening.

Jeff Dauzat, an administrator with LDEQ, told WAFB’s Austin Kemker that LDEQ crews will remain at ExxonMobil to monitor conditions.

“As of right now, all leaks are contained and the fire is out. No cause for concern when it comes to air quality,” Dauzat said.

Dauzat also says that some people noticed a smell from the fire, but that doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. All levels of air quality have been determined safe for humans.

It will take LDEQ crews about a week to investigate the cause of the fire. LDEQ officials do not know what started the fire at the refinery or what kind of chemical was burning.

“We want to prevent this from happening again,” Dauzat said. “This could’ve been much worse so we want the company to do their due diligence to figure out what caused this and come to the agency with a plan to keep it from happening again.”

Mark Armstrong with the Baton Rouge Mayor’s Office issued the following statement on Feb. 12:

“In the event of an evacuation or shelter-in-place order, we have several ways of communicating with the public including our Integrated Public Alert Warning System which notifies the public through phone calls and text messages. Our Baton Rouge Fire Department Hazmat Team never detected off-site air quality issues that would warrant such action. Throughout the night, our Baton Rouge Fire Department did conduct extensive interviews with local media notifying the public of the specifics of the situation. According to ExxonMobil, they also contacted the public within a 1.5 mile radius through its Community Dialogue Group and notified residents enrolled in their automatic text message alert system. As with every incident, we will do an After Action Report to evaluate our response and public notification.”

Watch part of WAFB’s coverage as the blaze was brought under control in the video below:

The fire lit up the sky and caused great concern for the community. The refinery is located on the bluffs of the Mississippi River in north Baton Rouge.

Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, whose district in East Baton Rouge Parish includes the refinery and surrounding areas, is inviting residents with questions or concerns to contact her office at 225-389-5140.

ExxonMobil is the largest manufacturing employer in Louisiana. The Baton Rouge refinery is the fifth largest in the nation. The facility produces gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and more. At the chemical plant, products produced include paint, adhesives, plastic milk jugs, and other everyday items.

One of the last incidents at the facility happened 30 years ago. On Christmas Eve of 1989 an explosion blew out windows at the state capitol and throughout downtown. It could be felt some 40 miles away and seen from even further.

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