According to officials, the fire started at 12:34 p.m. when demolition workers were performing a routine torch cutting of an empty oil tank at the former refinery.
The site, which is now owned by Hilco Redevelopment Partners, shut down two years ago after an explosion released hundreds of thousands of pounds of chemicals into nearby residential areas.
According to Hilco and NorthStar Contracting Group, which is responsible for the multi-year demolition of the site, Monday’s fire was caused by “limited oil residue inside the tank,” which began to smolder.
Hilco and NorthStar representatives said in a joint statement that the fire was put out by NorthStar with on-site firefighting equipment. The company said someone outside the facility called the Philadelphia Fire Department, which responded and assisted in extinguishing the fire.
According to the fire department, the second alarm was struck at 2:30 p.m. and was under control by 4:27 p.m. The department said about 100 firefighters and 45 apparatus were at the scene. No injuries were reported and no homes were evacuated.
According to the joint statement, “the tank was being prepared for demolition after JD2 Environmental, Inc., an inspector certified by PADEP, completed an inspection in accordance with PADEP requirements and approved the demolition.”
The companies say they have successfully demolished approximately 50 oil tanks on site with no incident.
Hilco and NorthStar officials said, “This type of demolition is complex. There will be a further investigation of the incident conducted by NorthStar, but please let me assure all local residents that the incident has been contained and that there is no danger to the community.”
A group of local residents called Philly Thrive are concerned about oil tanks and fossil fuel infrastructure being left onsite long-term, and are calling for clear public communication about emergency plans as the demolition progresses.
“This is exactly what we knew was going to happen with the oil tanks still there”, says Kehna Kirkland, South Philadelphia resident and Philly Thrive member. “We need no fossil fuels and no tank farms in our neighborhoods.”
Members of Philly Thrive spoke out against the former refinery near the scene on Monday.
“Fossil fuel use in any form is dangerous. They catch fire, explode, produce deadly pollutants, and are destroying our planet”, says Mark Clincy, South Philadelphia resident and Philly Thrive member. “Hilco needs to stop storing fossil fuels at the former PES refinery site. We say ‘no’ to tank farms in Philadelphia. Our lives depend on it.”