Philadelphia, PA Refinery Fire, Aug 1975
REFINERY FIRE UNDER CONTROL; 3 FIREMEN DEAD.
Philadelphia (AP) -- Three firemen caught in a sudden flashing of flames during a spectacular refinery blaze were turned into human torches. All three died.
At least three more firemen were missing and five firemen were among the 13 persons injured in the fire that started Sunday and burned through the night at the Gulf Oil Co. Refinery.
It was declared under control early this morning by the Philadelphis Fire Board.
"The flames just engulfed them," said Commissioner JOSEPH RIZZO, describing how he escaped the first of dozens of explosions but looked back to see three of his men sealed in flames.
"They were trying to get under the foam, but to no avail," he said. "They were human torches."
The blaze at the second largest refinery on the East Coast could be seen for 20 miles. Flames covering an area about a half-mile square roared into a spreading cloud of black smoke.
The fire started Sunday at dawn when an 80,000-barrel storage tank ignited while being filled with oil from a tanker. The ship was not damaged and the fire was brought under control by 9 a.m.
Clean-up crews moved in. They spent the day pouring chemical foam onto the smouldering tank. The firemen were relaxed. There was no apparent danger.
But according to JACK BURK, manager of the refinery, the facility's sewage system failed to drain off oil that was spilled from the first fire. Fumes backed up.
"Then it flashed," BURK said.
At 4 p.m., when the area was crowded with equipment and men, a bowl of flame erupted. There was one explosion, then another. Flames were everywhere.
Within minutes the fire jumped to 11 alarms, activating 600 fire fighters.
Flames scorched the Penrose Avenue Bridge over the Schuylkill River, a key commuter artery into the city and the main route between downtown Philadelphia and Philadelphia International Airport.
The bridge was closed to all traffic. The area around the sprawling refinery was scaled off, then power and telephone service in the neighborhood went dead.
Firemen tried to battle the blaze, but they realized it was useless. Commissioner RIZZO announced, "Let it burn. It'll have to burn itself out. It may take two days, maybe three, but that's all we can do."
Five of the injured were firemen who were treated at local burn centers. They were all in critical or stable conditions.
The Gulf refinery borders the Schuylkill Expressway in South Philadelphia. It is next to the Philadelphia Naval Base and located about 200 yards across the Schuylkill River from a large tank farm.
In the refinery at the time of the fire were crude oils, jet fuel and naptha, an explosive. All three were fueling the fire.
Last January, a tanker collision on the Delaware River here took 29 lives.
Firemen Who Perished In The Blaze:
JOHN ANDREWS, 49, Engine 49.
JOSEPH WILEY, 33, Ladder 27.
ROGER PARKER, 28, Ladder 27.
HUGH McINTYRE, 53, Engine 56.
ROBERT FISHER, 43, Engine 33.
RALPH CAMPANA, 41, Ladder 19.
JAMES PAULIOT, 35, Engine 20. (Died 8-24-1975).
CARROLL BRENEK, 30, Engine 57. (Died 8-30-1975).
The Abilene Reporter-News Texas 1975-08-18