Firefighters battle blaze at former PES refinery

A general view of the PES Refinery on the banks of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia.
REUTERS/Dane Rhys

Dozens of firefighters battled a blaze Monday afternoon at the former Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia, where an explosion two years ago released toxic chemical compounds.

The two-alarm fire occurred in a tank that was no longer being used, and no one was ordered to evacuate or shelter-in-place, according to the Philadelphia Fire Department.

Crews got the flames under control just before 4:30 p.m., about four hours after it was first reported. About 100 fire personnel and 45 vehicles responded to the scene, the PFD said.

Hilco Redevelopment Partners purchased the 1,300-acre refinery site last year following the devastating June 2019 fire and explosion. The company plans to turn the property into a distribution center with facilities for light manufacturing and science labs.

NorthStar Contracting Group, which is handling demolition, said the fire started during a “routine torch cutting” at one of the empty oil tanks. A small amount of oil residue inside the tank appears to have caused the blaze, according to the company.

Workers utilized firefighting equipment on the site to quickly put out the fire, and someone from outside the refinery called the fire department, NorthStar said.

“To date we have demolished approximately 50 oil tanks on site with no incident. This type of demolition is complex,” representatives from the company added in a statement. “There will be a further investigation of the incident conducted by NorthStar, but please let me assure all local residents that the incident has been contained and that there is no danger to the community.”

In a recent update, Hilco said the refinery’s decommissioning process is half-complete; 60% of the asbestos has been remediated; and 80% of the site’s former tanks have been removed.

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