A fire broke out at a Texas Exxon Mobil oil refinery on Wednesday, injuring at least 37 people, some with minor burns, and sending black plumes of smoke into the sky. The massive blaze erupted at 11.07am following an explosion at the Exxon Mobil Baytown Olefins plant, located about 25 miles outside of Houston. The fire broke out at the plant, which processes light hydrocarbons including propane and propylene, in an area that contains polypropylene material, leading the facility to issue a shelter in place notice to nearby residents as a precaution at 11.17am. Thirty-seven people were treated for non-life threatening injuries, including first-degree burns, in the fire, plant manager Jason Duncan said. None of the workers had to be hospitalized. Video footage of the terrifying fire shows bright orange flames rising from a large metal stack measuring several stories high and billowing black smoke. As of Wednesday 4pm the fire was isolated and contained, but not yet extinguished. The cause of the explosion is not known.
Crews were pictured on the scene shutting down the affected units and trying to isolate the source of the fire immediately after the fire broke out. Some locals reported that their houses and windows shook in the loud initial explosion. 'Exxon Mobil Baytown is dealing with a fire at its facility. The city added that Exxon has advised nearby residents to shelter in place out of an abundance of caution,' the city of Baytown announced on Twitter following the fire. The shelter in place warning tells locals to stay indoors, keep doors and windows closed, and turn off air conditioning. That warning was lifted at 3.05pm local time. Exxon also tweeted about the fire saying: 'Our fire team is working to extinguish the fire,' adding the company was checking in on the safety of its workers and the community. Wednesday afternoon Exxon Mobile released a statement saying six people were injured. That number quickly spiked to 37.
Exxon Mobil, which is based in Texas, said that the fire broke out at its Olefins plant which produces ethylene - a chemical used to make plastic and industrial products and is extremely flammable. According to records by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Olefins plant housed 68 tons of ethylene on the site in 2017 as well as other potentially hazardous chemicals such as ammonia, benzene, and propylene. The 3,400-acre Baytown complex was founded 100 years ago in 1919 and includes a 561,000-barrel-a-day refinery. Officials say product was lost in the boom and fire.
Exxon Mobil said it was conducting air quality monitoring at the site on Wednesday. 'Available information shows no adverse impact at this time.' 'Our first priority remains the safety of people, including our employees, contractors and the community,' the company said. The shelter in place warning was placed in the city of Baytown and the Sheldon school district asked students and school administrators to go indoors and host any practices, rehearsals or other school activities inside. Wednesday's blaze marked the fourth fire to break out at Houston-area petrochemical facilities this year - including one at another facility on Exxon Mobil's Baytown complex.