Fire at Louisiana oil refinery sends tower of black smoke into the air, but no injuries reported

GARYVILLE, La. (AP) — A massive fire at a south Louisiana oil refinery sent a tower of black smoke billowing into the air above the Mississippi River on Friday, forcing nearby residents to evacuate for several hours as emergency crews battled the blaze.

No injuries were reported and the fire was under control and contained to two damaged storage tanks by late afternoon, according Marathon Petroleum, which operates the facility in Garyville, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of New Orleans. Air quality monitoring was also taking place, officials said.

Photos from above showed orange flames leaping into the air beneath the dark cloud of smoke as emergency crews sprayed long arcs of water onto the inferno. The fire was burning in an section of the refinery surrounded by wide cylindrical storage tanks. The company said two tanks were damaged.

St. John the Baptist Parish President Jaclyn Hotard said she ordered the mandatory evacuation within two miles of the refinery as a precaution “even though we have been assured that all impacts are contained to the facility.”

“We just want to make sure that our residents are safe,” Hotard said during a news conference. “It's alarming to see what's going on. I understand residents' concerns. It's a little scary. We recommend you take the evacuation seriously in case there are impacts.”

By 2 p.m., Hotard had lifted the evacuation order. The fire broke out shortly before 7 a.m. when, according to the company, a storage tank at the facility released naphtha — a partially refined product used as feed stock to make gasoline.

Earlier in the day, company spokesperson Justin Lawrence told reporters he couldn't estimate when the fire might be fully extinguished.

An investigation will be conducted to determine what caused the leak and subsequent fire, officials said in a news release.


This story has been updated to correct that the refinery is northwest of New Orleans, not southeast.