U.S. safety investigators launched a probe into a Feb. 16 fire at Valero Energy's
A Valero spokeswoman said the company is cooperating with the investigation, but would not comment while the probe is underway.
In addition to trying to determine how the propane-fueled fire began at the 170,000 barrel per day refinery 60 miles north of Amarillo, Texas, the CSB will look at how the fire spread to damage chlorine cylinders, threatening to detonate a giant propane storage tank.
"Once the propane was released and ignited, the fire spread rapidly," said the board's lead investigator Jim Lay. "Within minutes, a critical piping rack -- on which some of the support beams had not been fireproofed -- collapsed, breaking open pipes and adding fuel to the blaze."
Refinery workers were unable to shut down pumps that would have cut the flow of hydrocarbon liquids into the fire or set off firewater deluge systems that would have cooled exposed equipment, Lay said in the statement.
"...Effective fireproofing and remote shutdown and deluge system capability are critical for keeping a fire contained and preventing catastrophic impacts on a facility," CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt said.