El Segundo refinery fire could have been worse, cause still under investigation, authorities say

Authorities are still trying to determine the cause of a fire at the Chevron refinery in El Segundo on Tuesday night.

The fire broke out around 10:30 p.m. at or near a malfunctioning pump, said Breck Slover, battalion chief with the El Segundo Fire Department. There was no explosion, but loud bangs from electrical transformers blowing up were heard at the plant. The cause of the pump malfunction is unknown, Slover said.

The fire sent flames nearly 40 feet skyward and burned for about an hour and 20 minutes.

The blaze could have have been much worse, Slover said. Emergency personnel shut down the fuel supply to the pump and hosed down some nearby petroleum tanks to prevent them from failing.

“If the tanks failed, it would have been a three- or four-day event,” Slover said.

No one was injured, Slover said. It’s not clear how much property damage the fire caused.

El Segundo officials asked residents to shelter in place and close their windows to minimize the effects of drifting smoke. However, wind conditions were relatively calm Tuesday night, Slover said.

Neighbors often complain that the refinery, the largest of its kind on the West Coast, emits offensive odors and has caused health problems, but the fire department hasn’t received any formal complaints from residents about Tuesday’s fire, Slover said.

Slover said it’s been at least five years since there was a significant fire at the refinery. The fire department is called to the plant several times a year, he said.

“Anytime something happens over there, it’s got the potential to be really bad,” Slover said.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District is also investigating any potential air quality violations, said spokesman Sam Atwood. A district inspector examined the plant Tuesday night after the fire, Atwood said.

The district has cited the plant for several air quality violations over the years, Atwood said. Most recently, it issued three notices of violation in June after tests showed that excessive organic compounds were leaking from various parts of the refinery, Atwood said. A follow-up inspection showed that the leaks had been fixed.

frank.shyong@latimes.com

Twitter: @frankshyong

An earlier version of this article reported that the refinery received three notices of violation from the South Coast Air Quality Management District in March. The notices were issued in June.
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