Large fire burns storage tower at Cherry Point refinery

Large fire burns storage tower at Cherry Point refinery
FERNDALE, Wash. - Crews responded to a huge fire Friday afternoon at the BP Cherry Point refinery near Ferndale that one witness described as an "inferno" before firefighters brought it under control about 90 minutes later.

One worker was hospitalized with minor injuries, said BP spokesman Scott Dean.

At the height of the blaze, a huge plume of black smoke could be seen for miles around the refinery as flames belched from a storage unit tower at the facility.

An eyewitness who was working nearby said the blaze broke out suddenly and without warning at about 2:30 p.m.

"I was on break, all of a sudden the alarms went off. ... People were running; they're like, 'Hey, this is real.'"

The witness, who asked not to be identified by name, said "flames are shooting about 40 to 60 feet above the tower."

"Looks like you're looking inside of an inferno," he said.

Marie Bruland, who lives about a half-mile from the refinery, said she heard the fire alarms, too.

"First we heard the alarms going off at the plant, then all of a sudden there were sirens, fire engines and all sort of emergency equipment racing to get there," she said.

"The smoke is huge, black smoke. We can see flames shooting."

Jacob Amker, a contract worker at the plant, said employees were evacuated after the fire broke out.

"We saw a big plume of black smoke behind us, and we turned and we saw the flames come up after that, and then we heard the alarms go off and we headed for the evacuation area," he said.

Amker said refinery-based fire crews called in outside fire districts for support, and were still going through the process of accounting for everyone.

"Everybody's being moved outside the refinery itself, and we're on standby," he said.

Multiple fire crews responded to the blaze from surrounding districts. Firefighters smothered the flames with thousands of gallons of foam and BP officials said the fire was declared out at 4 p.m.

Crews remained on scene to dump water on the tower and cool it down.

BP Cherry Point every day produces 2.5 million gallons of jet fuel, 3.5 million gallons of gasoline, 2.2 million gallons of diesel, 360,000 gallons of butane and 140,000 gallons of propane.

About 700 employees work at the facility, which covers roughly a square mile in Whatcom County.