Philadelphia, PA Refinery Fire, Aug 1975

Refinery Fire


Philadelphia (AP) -- Three firemen caught in a sudden flashing of flames during a spectacular refinery blaze were turned into human torches. All three died.
At least three more firemen were missing and five firemen were among the 13 persons injured in the fire that started Sunday and burned through the night at the Gulf Oil Co. Refinery.
It was declared under control early this morning by the Philadelphis Fire Board.
"The flames just engulfed them," said Commissioner JOSEPH RIZZO, describing how he escaped the first of dozens of explosions but looked back to see three of his men sealed in flames.
"They were trying to get under the foam, but to no avail," he said. "They were human torches."
The blaze at the second largest refinery on the East Coast could be seen for 20 miles. Flames covering an area about a half-mile square roared into a spreading cloud of black smoke.
The fire started Sunday at dawn when an 80,000-barrel storage tank ignited while being filled with oil from a tanker. The ship was not damaged and the fire was brought under control by 9 a.m.
Clean-up crews moved in. They spent the day pouring chemical foam onto the smouldering tank. The firemen were relaxed. There was no apparent danger.
But according to JACK BURK, manager of the refinery, the facility's sewage system failed to drain off oil that was spilled from the first fire. Fumes backed up.
"Then it flashed," BURK said.
At 4 p.m., when the area was crowded with equipment and men, a bowl of flame erupted. There was one explosion, then another. Flames were everywhere.
Within minutes the fire jumped to 11 alarms, activating 600 fire fighters.
Flames scorched the Penrose Avenue Bridge over the Schuylkill River, a key commuter artery into the city and the main route between downtown Philadelphia and Philadelphia International Airport.
The bridge was closed to all traffic. The area around the sprawling refinery was scaled off, then power and telephone service in the neighborhood went dead.
Firemen tried to battle the blaze, but they realized it was useless. Commissioner RIZZO announced, "Let it burn. It'll have to burn itself out. It may take two days, maybe three, but that's all we can do."
Five of the injured were firemen who were treated at local burn centers. They were all in critical or stable conditions.
The Gulf refinery borders the Schuylkill Expressway in South Philadelphia. It is next to the Philadelphia Naval Base and located about 200 yards across the Schuylkill River from a large tank farm.
In the refinery at the time of the fire were crude oils, jet fuel and naptha, an explosive. All three were fueling the fire.
Last January, a tanker collision on the Delaware River here took 29 lives.

Firemen Who Perished In The Blaze:
JOHN ANDREWS, 49, Engine 49.
JOSEPH WILEY, 33, Ladder 27.
ROGER PARKER, 28, Ladder 27.
HUGH McINTYRE, 53, Engine 56.
ROBERT FISHER, 43, Engine 33.
RALPH CAMPANA, 41, Ladder 19.
JAMES PAULIOT, 35, Engine 20. (Died 8-24-1975).
CARROLL BRENEK, 30, Engine 57. (Died 8-30-1975).

The Abilene Reporter-News Texas 1975-08-18


your grandfather

you are right about your grandfather i knew the man good worker. also you sure are right about arco. god bless you son. Stan.

1969 ARCO Cat-Cracker blast

the 1969 explosion sounds like the 853 cat-cracker incident. I worked at this refinery, now owned by Sunoco, back in the late 90's and remember hearing about it from some of the guy's who were there and witnessed it that day. According to what they told me, 853 cat-cracker was comming off of a "turn around" and was in the process of being put back into service. As very hot feed (oil) entered near the top of the cat-cracker and began to cascade down the tray's, there was a release of some condinsate (water from cooled down steam) about a gallon, from a plugged condinsate wash line located at the bottom of the vessel. No one was aware of this ! When the condinsate became heated from the extreme temperature of the hot feed it then flashed off back in steam vapor .
Water does not compress therefore, this caused a sudden and extreme spike in pressure inside the vessel. Although the pressure saftey's lifted it was'nt nearly enough to handle what was happening. With the hot feed still entering the vessel the pressure had no where to go and caused a split in the side of the cat-cracker itself. When that happend all hell broke loose. The hot oil then had a spark from the split and now had the oxygen to sustain an incredible blast that witnesses told me went several hundred feet into the air and even shot accross the highway.
Again ,this is how it was told to me by the guy's who were there that day. As far as the operator's (your grandfather being one of them) who were working the start up that day I did hear that they knew there was a problem and were in the process of investingating when that blast occured .
Any and all process equipment has been removed from what was known as "the north yard" . There was one remnant left from the blast though. It's a concrete containing wall that was just accross from 853. The wall still in the late 90's showed the chared outline of anything that was stacked against it. I thought that was very eerie.
Robert, your best bet is to contact the Philadelphia Library on Locust st. Ask for a guy named Ted. He will search the news paper archives for you based on the date of the incident. From there, he will make you any copies-including picture's of what happend that day. Good Luck !


From the Sunday morning we all were called there, It is still vivid in my memory. Even after nearly 35 years, I still think of them all, and the families they left behind.

arco oil refinery explosion philadelphia 09/07/1969

My grandfather died in this explosion on september 7th 1969 and I can not find mention of it any place in history those rotten basterds at arco must have deep pockets. the explosion was just as big a blast as the one in 1975. can anyone help me reserch this further?