At least four people were injured in a massive explosion and fire at an Exxon Mobil oil refinery in Texas that police are calling a ‘major industrial accident’.
Huge flames could be seen shooting out of the Baytown chemical plant and into the night sky over San Jacinto Bay at around 1am today.
Locals reported hearing ‘a large boom’ strong enough to shake houses and ‘knock pictures off the wall’.
Fire and police services remain at the scene of the fire, which officials say is the result of a hydrotreater unit that was under repair. An Exxon spokesperson said crews were trying to bring the fire under control and that all workers had been accounted for.
It has also been confirmed that the fire has affected part of the plant’s gasoline production.
The Harris County Sheriff’s Office described the incident as a ‘major industrial accident’, with Sheriff Ed Gonzalez confirming that four contractors at the plant have been injured but were in a stable condition.
There were also no orders to evacuate or shelter-in-place.
The fire is said to have started in a hydrotreater unit that was being repaired by the contractors ‘due to a bypass line leak’.
Sheriff Gonzalez added that three of the people injured in the fire were flown to hospital by LifeFlight rescue helicopter and a fourth was taken by ambulance.
Shocked residents in Baytown and nearby Houston took to social media to ask what had happened and whether the facility was still safe.
Tonja Tolleson tweeted: ‘Just had big enough boom that house shook & everything inside the house rattled. Sounded like freight train connecting cars outside the house.’
Another commented: ‘Explosion at Exxon! It rumbled my apartment and knocked my pictures off the wall.’
A third wrote: ‘Little more than a fire, my house shook to its foundation miles away from [Exxon].’
Early this morning Exxon Mobil gave a brief update on twitter, writing: ‘Around 1 a.m. on 12/23/2021, a fire occurred at our facility. At this time, emergency vehicles and smoke may be noticeable to the community.
‘We are coordinating with local officials, and working to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
In a update around 7am ET, the company said: ‘Our emergency response teams continue to work to extinguish the fire at our Baytown complex.
‘Our first priority is people in the community and in our facilities. And monitoring continues along the fence line. Available information shows no adverse impact at this time.
‘No shelter in place has been called for our community and near neighbours. We did keep regret any disruption or inconvenience that this incident may have caused the community.’
The 3,400-acre Baytown complex was founded 100 years ago in 1919 and includes a 561,000-barrel-a-day refinery.
This is not the first time the plant has suffered a major incident.
An explosion in 2019 is believed to have caused a massive blaze in an area of the plant that contains polypropylene material.
The incident happened at around 11.07am on July 31, with 37 people having to be treated for non-life threatening injuries, including first-degree burns.
Video footage of the terrifying fire shows bright orange flames rising from a large metal stack measuring several stories high and billowing black smoke.
Locals similarly reported that their houses and windows shook in the loud initial explosion.