Officials investigating dangerous oil refinery fire

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AMERICAN FORK — Federal, state and local investigators and specialists are looking further into a fire at a recycled oil refinery in Utah County last week. The fire shut down the plant and had crews scrambling to place booms in Utah Lake over fears of where the oil may go.

The fire took place Thursday in an oil tank at Rock Canyon Oil at 1669 South 580 East in American Fork. It re-ignited roughly a half-dozen times, company General Manager Gary Maxwell said.

"This is a really fluke, rare scenario we couldn't possibly imagine," Maxwell said.

According to Maxwell, the company believes the problem may have been a crack in a tube that is used to heat the oil tank, though the official cause has not been determined.

Monday, officials with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and Occupational Safety and Health Administration joined the Utah County Fire Marshal and workers who oversee American Fork's storm drains in surveying the site. Maxwell said Federal Emergency Management Agency officials had already been to the closed refinery.

Crews last week placed booms and other countermeasures in a storm drain and in Utah Lake. The progress of the oil was halted in the storm drain, both Maxwell and firefighters confirmed.

This is as close to being a catastrophic event as I've ever seen.

–Chief Kriss Garcia

The refinery could be closed for a couple months, Maxwell said.

"This is as close to being a catastrophic event as I've ever seen," American Fork Fire Chief Kriss Garcia said. Garcia said crews braved dangerous conditions to help get the fire under control.

"Firefighters put themselves in extreme harm's way to protect the building and what they did," Garcia said. "The firefighters were operating in several feet of oil inside the building while they were trying to put this out."

Maxwell described a more stable environment inside the refinery, though far more serious than a previous, smaller fire at the plant.

"One person called (the previous fire) a 'weenie roast,' so this is nothing like the little teeny thing we had before," Maxwell said. "This is really the first occurrence of anything that would be significant."

Maxwell said used or recycled oil was far more stable than its pre-gasoline counterpart, needing something to act upon it before catching fire. He said the refinery had been inspected and signed off several times and has been "very safe."

Garcia said tens of thousands of dollars of fire equipment was damaged or ruined by fighting the oil fire. He was uncertain Monday who would be paying the bill.

Rock Canyon Oil did not have a damage estimate yet, Maxwell said.


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