Blast Sparks Fire at Asphalt Plant

An explosion in an asphalt-storage tank sent clouds of billowing smoke into the sky and forced closure of part of 5th Street east of Rice Avenue in Oxnard on Tuesday afternoon.

The incident occurred about 1:30 p.m. during a routine operation at an asphalt-processing plant owned by Tenby Inc., which operates Oxnard Refinery and Chase Production Co. About 14 employees were evacuated, and no one was injured.

The plant is in the 3000 block of 5th Street, a mostly industrial area of fields and refineries.

Six engines, three hazardous-materials trucks and about 50 firefighters were called to handle the burning material. They waited for the smoke to clear and put the fire out with chemicals sprayed into the tank.

"It was not a huge catastrophe, but these things have the potential to escalate," said Joe Luna, a spokesman for the county Fire Department. "It can take a lot of resources, and safety is paramount."

Employees were filling an empty tank with asphalt when the explosion occurred. It is unclear what sparked the blast.

"All I heard was a whistling," said Jose Sanchez, a Tenby employee who was working on the transfer. "The next thing I knew, I just saw a cloud of smoke."

Although the smoke's components, which included hydrocarbons, paraffin and methane, could be hazardous, it dissipated quickly in the breeze. But the smell of tar reached Camarillo.

"There's a small amount in the air, mixing in quick," said Sandi Wells, a spokeswoman for the county Fire Department. "It's not like a toxic cloud over Camarillo."

The plant has had two similar but smaller incidents in the last five years, said Julie Chase, a company spokeswoman. Both were handled by the company, she said.

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