February 17, 2007

Texas Refinery Fire Burns After 19 Hurt

SUNRAY, Texas - A small fire continued to burn Saturday morning at a west Texas refinery a day after an explosion injured 19 people and produced a billowing cloud of smoke that could be seen 60 miles away.

No deaths were reported and all employees at the Valero Energy Corp. McKee Refinery were accounted for, the company said.

The blaze had subsided substantially by late Friday but still had not been extinguished by Saturday morning. Paul Jenkins, fire chief in the nearby community of Dumas, said Valero's fire brigade was fighting the blaze.

Valero said the fire was believed to have started at the refinery's "propane de-asphalting unit," where fuel is processed at high temperatures.

A company spokeswoman did not immediately return a call seeking comment Saturday.

More than 400 workers were evacuated from the refinery after the explosion, authorities said. The refinery was shut down after the blast, as were pipelines in and out of the facility, the company said.

Two Valero employees and a contract worker who had been in critical condition were transferred to a regional burn unit in Lubbock. By Saturday, two of the men had been upgraded to serious condition, a nursing supervisor at the hospital said.

Valero, the largest refiner in North America, operates 17 refineries, 16 in North America and one in Aruba. The McKee refinery, located in Sunray, is one of six in Texas and has a capacity of 170,000 barrels per day. Sunray has a population of about 2,000.