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URGENT Two Refinery Blasts Kill Five, Injure 45

December 6, 1985

Undated (AP) _ Explosions rocked oil refineries in California and Louisiana on Thursday, igniting fires that killed five workers and injured scores of others, including six who were critically burned.

Two workers were killed and 45 others hurt when a blast at the Atlantic Richfield Co. in Carson, Calif., refinery shook a neighborhood and shot flames 500 feet into the air.

In Lake Charles, La., a hydrogen compressor at the Citgo Oil refinery exploded and ignited a flash fire that killed three workers who were trying to repair it, said plant manager R.J. Carleton. Two other workers suffered minor burns.

The Arco explosion ″rumbled pretty good ... like an earthquake,″ said Sandi McDonell, who was working across the street.

Paramedics attending a ceremony rededicating a county fire station to the late producer of the TV show ″Emergency″ jumped into action when they heard the blast nearby, said Los Angeles County fire spokesman Mike Moura. Many of the injured were treated on a grassy patch across the street from the refinery.

″I saw a white fume near the ground, heard a loud hissing noise,″ said Warren Hutto, who was making a delivery to the refinery and who tried to climb a fence to safety. ″It blew me over the top,″ he said, holding up hands bandaged after the fall.

″I saw the flames, heard the blast, a fantastic explosion,″ said county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who was at the ceremony to dedicate the station to the late Robert Cinader, producer of the television show ″Emergency,″ which was filmed there. The drama series centered on two fire department paramedics and their rescues.

″It was burning so loudly and so vigorously that it drowned out the (public address) system,″ said Fire Chief John Englund, one of those at the ceremony.

Arco spokesman Scott Loll said the 9:50 a.m. explosion was in a ″reformer unit″ used to boost the octane of gasoline and that flames were fed by gasoline from a pump that feeds the unit. The fire was put out an hour later. He denied earlier reports by firefighters that hydrogen was involved.

About 30 fire trucks and three helicopters carrying paramedics were called to the Watson refinery, 15 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

Among those treated at area hospitals was fire Capt. Albert Brandelli Jr., admitted to the cardiac care unit with chest pains, said Cindy Peters, a spokeswoman at San Pedro Peninsula Hospital.

Critically burned were Jim Broadway, 30, of Long Beach, and Vernon Wales, 50, of Wilmington, both admitted to Torrance Memorial Hospital Medical Center; Stan Lawrence, 29, of Westminister, and Barney Dye, 57, no hometown listed, at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center; and two men, ages 37 and 47, at County-USC Medical Center, where officials would not release their names.

Authorities were trying to identify the badly burned bodies of the dead.

The cause of the 11:30 a.m. Louisiana blast was still under investigation, said Kent Young, a Citgo spokesman who traveled to the plant from the company’s Tusla, Okla., headquarters.

Carleton said ″there was a substanial release of hydrogen, which exploded and continued to burn until it was extinguished″ about 15 minutes later.

The three dead employees and two injured workers were in the compressor when it exploded, said Calcasieu Parish Sheriff’s spokesman John Scott Doyle. The dead were identified as machinists Vernon N. Keeton, 58, of Lake Charles, Clarence Oakes, 52, of DeQuincy, and machinist apprentice Rhonda B. Stockman, 30, of Ragley.

Joseph Guillory of Welch, and Mayfield Harris of Lake Charles were treated for first- and second-degree burns on their faces and hands.

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