Skip to Content

Philadelphia, PA Refinery Fire, Aug 1975

Refinery Fire


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


gulf Fire

Worked with Ralph at Ladder 19 think of him and others who were lost that day.

1969 and 1975 Explosions

There are still remnants of both explosions in the refinery, all you do is just dig. I worked in the north yard before the rail went in doing the sub-surface investigation and during construction and found old building walls still standing scorched on one side and fine on the other, cars and trucks that where buried and you can tell they where in a explosion, the old foundations and piers.

What happened there wasn't lost on the workers because they heard what was found when digging or saw it when digging and asked questions on what was here and what happened and the sunoco personal at least researched it and told us what happened...

1969 fire at 853

.just going down memory lane and saw your letter. I worked there at that time and still have pictures burned in my head. call if you like. 856 768 3762. len

Thank You So Much.

I want to Thank all and say God Bless to the kind People who Responded to My Post. I never got to know My Pop pop " Till " .I was only A Year old at the time cat cracker 853 exploded.. I Heard He was a Hard Worker, Loved His Family and Was a God Fearing Man. All Great and Rare Traits in This Day and Age. I will take what I have Learned of Him and Use Him as A Role Model till the Day The Lord says My Work Here is done. Again, Thanks and May The Lord Bless You.
Robert A. " till " Tillinghast,Jr.

1969 explosion

I remember the day it happened, I was in grade school and my dad worked at the refinery. I heard people had gotten killed and I didn't know if it was him or not. (It wasn't) I do not know why it is not in the archives about this some where. I work here now, and when I drive by the spot where it happened I get the chills. They are building a rail car unloading project going right over where it happened. I was googling this because I can't remember how many souls were lost that day.

1969 explosion

They are building a rail road now in the North Yard to unload the crude from N. Dakota. Very eerie they are building over the site where the explosion occurred. Every time I drive by the construction site I say a prayer for the souls who died that day in September. The contractors who are building this don't have any idea what happened there.

My brother in law is the son

My brother in law is the son of a man who was also killed that day in 1969. He was 2 years old at the time. I am always searching online about this story, yet I never really find anything. Your blog was the closest I have ever come.

Could You call Me . I would

Could You call Me . I would Love to ask You a couple Questions,about POP. POP. Till. 302 668 6051 Robert.

Thanks so Much Sir. God

Thanks so Much Sir. God Bless You.


I will never forget that Sunday morning when I gave my husband, Ralph Campana, a "good-bye kiss" for the last time.
I shall never forget how he drove to the front of our house to tell me, "I just had to have one last look," with his familiar ear-to-ear grin. Who can forget the terrible loss suffered by the families left behind by these 8 heroes. It is so heartwarming to realize that their memories linger even to this day, long after the ringing of the last bell. It has been 36 years, and I still come across written memorials in their honor. I thank you, my children thank you, and my grandchildren (who never met Ralph, but who know all about him) thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

article | by Dr. Radut