Large fire at Carson refinery sends flames 100 feet into the air; 405 Freeway reopens

Refinery fire in Carson
A fire at the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Carson.

A large fire that erupted late Tuesday at the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Carson sent flames at least 100 feet into the air, according to news reports, but was mostly contained by Wednesday morning, authorities said.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department said an explosion preceded the blaze in a cooling tower at the refinery, and crews were working to depressurize the system.

Residents as far away as Glendale, Studio City and Atwater Village reported hearing the explosion.


The fire prompted a brief closure of all lanes of the 405 Freeway at Wilmington Avenue, according to the California Highway Patrol. All lanes reopened by about 11:45 p.m. after being closed for about 30 minutes.

Jennifer Atenza, a public information officer with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said on Twitter that the agency had secured a perimeter around the refinery.

“At this time we don’t anticipate need to evacuate residents,” Atenza said.

Daniya Ahmed, 22, lives about 1.5 miles west of the refinery.

Ahmed was doing her nightly routine when she heard a loud boom. Her shutters rattled, and the sound spooked her cat, Momo.

Ahmed said she wondered if it was an explosion or a mass shooting. “I got really confused and honestly frightened,” Ahmed said in a Twitter message. “My heart was racing.”


Then she heard a second explosion and thought it might be a multi-car accident.

She soon saw posts on social media about the refinery fire. She went to her window and at first didn’t smell smoke.

“But then I noticed the smell,” she said. “It wasn’t smoke. It smelled like chemical. It was the type of smell that sits at the back of your throat.”

Carson resident Joe Billings told KABC-TV Channel 7 that he was putting his daughter to bed when they heard an explosion and their house shook.

The refinery’s “alarms went off, so that’s an indication something was really bad,” Billings told the news station, noting the alarm went off about 10:45 p.m.

Billings said his home is about two miles away.

“Felt like the house got a little jolt on this side of town,” he said.

Ruben Banda, 22, who lives less than two miles from the refinery, heard a loud noise but at first assumed nothing was wrong.

“I live next to the train yard, so loud sounds are always heard next to my house,” Banda said in a Twitter message. “So when I heard a very loud boom, I didn’t [think anything] of it, just another day where the trains are just loud.”


When Banda walked outside, he saw bright light coming from the refinery and realized there was smoke in the air.

The Marathon Refinery is the largest on the West Coast with a crude oil capacity of 363,000 barrels per day, according to the company’s website. The company operates the nation’s largest refining system with more than 3 million barrels per calendar day of crude oil capacity across 16 refineries, and is headquartered in Ohio. A spokesperson could not be reached late Tuesday for comment.