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20 injured in Valero refinery blast

Feb 17, 2007 |

An explosion caused a "major fire" Friday at Valero Energy Corp.'s McKee refinery in the Texas Panhandle, injuring nearly 20 people and forcing the evacuation of more than 400 employees and contractors, Valero officials said.

Area hospitals were treating the injured workers, including at least one who suffered burns. Another was treated for chest pains.

"All employees have been accounted for," Valero spokeswoman Mary Rose Brown said Friday in an e-mailed statement. "Valero emergency response team members administered first aid on-site to three individuals."

Late Friday, Valero shut down the 170,000-barrel-a-day refinery that is near Dumas, about 50 miles north of Amarillo. The Amarillo Globe-News reported that workers had "pulled back" from fighting the fire and were talking with local fire officials about other resources that could be used to battle the blaze.

Eyewitnesses told the Globe-News that billows of black smoke were visible for 60 miles. Dumas Fire Chief Paul Jenkins said the explosion occurred about 2 p.m.

San Antonio-based Valero said the fire probably started in the propane de-asphalting unit, which processes residual fuel at high temperatures.

A contract worker was taken by helicopter to the Harnar Burn Center at University Medical Center in Lubbock, while two Valero refining employees were taken to the burn center by ambulance, Brown said.

A fourth person, another Valero refining employee, was taken to a local hospital with chest pains, Brown said.

Sixteen others were taken to the hospital. Only four remained hospitalized and were being treated for chest pains, anxiety and stress, Valero said. Of the 10 people treated at Moore County Hospital in Dumas, most suffered from smoke inhalation, said Theron Park, the hospital district's chief executive.

The fire at McKee is the sixth accident that has occurred at Valero-owned plants since late last month. Valero had to extinguish a fire at its plant in Delaware City, Del., on Tuesday and another at its Texas City plant Jan. 28.

Valero is dealing with the McKee fire by setting up emergency response centers at the site and in San Antonio.

"Valero has sent two planes from its corporate headquarters in San Antonio with support teams, supplies and other resources," Brown said. "Emergency response team members from other Valero refineries are also on the way to provide support."

Although the blaze had subsided substantially, it had not been extinguished late Friday, Valero said in a statement.

In addition to evacuating the refinery, pipeline company NuStar Energy formerly Valero LP has evacuated its offices. NuStar has shut down its pipeline into and out of the McKee plant as part of emergency response procedures, Brown said.

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