Chevron fire being allowed to burn itself out

An oil fire at Chevron's largest U.S. refinery was contained within hours of starting Thursday, and a company spokesman said it will be allowed to burn out on its own.

Chevron spokesman Steve Renfroe said he didn't know how long the process would take.

"The nature of these refining systems is they are pressurized so the safest thing to do is contain the fire and let it burn out until the system de-pressures," Renfroe said.

He said the blaze was mostly contained by about 4 p.m. CDT, less than two hours after it started. A large plume of black smoke hung over the area most of the afternoon.

"There's no reports of injuries and everyone's accounted for," Renfroe said. "There was never any danger to the community and we'll investigate."

Jackson County government spokesman Ken Flanagan said there were two minor injuries, but Renfroe could not confirm that.

Flanagan said he was relaying information provided by company officials. He said one of the injuries was a person suffering from heat exhaustion at the plant. The other was a person who had an anxiety attack in a nearby neighborhood.

The facility is one of the top 10 petroleum refineries in the United States and has been operating on the Mississippi coast since 1963, according to the company's Web site.

The fire "started at Crude Processing Unit 2, about middle of plant," Flanagan said.

Renfroe said it was too early to tell how much damage was done or how much the fire would affect production at the plant.

Chevron's own fire crews fought the blaze, and about 20 firefighters from Pascagoula and Jackson County were standing by, said Pascagoula Fire Department Capt. Terry Turgeau.

Smoke was visible for several miles and flames were reported as high as tree tops shortly after the fire broke out. All nonessential employees were evacuated from the plant.

Robbie Wilbur, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, said the agency's emergency response team was on the scene.

"They're performing ambient air monitoring and we just want to make sure there is no impact for the citizens of the area," Wilbur said. "We'll continue working with Chevron to make sure the air is safe."

Air tests down wind from the fire indicated there was no danger to area residents, Renfroe said.

The plant processes 330,000 barrels of crude oil a day, primarily making gasoline, jet fuel and diesel, according to the Web site.

Other products made there include paraxylene, which is used by the textile and plastics industry, and benzene and ethylbenzene, both used automobile tires, sporting goods, nylon and pharmaceuticals, the Web site said.

The plant employs 1,350 people.