Fire raged for 90 minutes in a unit at the BP refinery in Whatcom County on Friday, but there was only one minor injury.
CHERRY POINT, Whatcom County — A large fire broke out Friday at the BP refinery at Cherry Point, creating a plume of black smoke visible for miles.
A BP spokesman said there were no serious injuries and that all employees and contractors were accounted for. One contractor did go to the hospital with a minor injury.
There was no information immediately available on the cause of the fire, said BP spokesman Scott Dean. The fire started at about 2:30 p.m. and took about 90 minutes to extinguish. It slowed production at the refinery but did not shut it down, he said.
The refinery, which processes about 230,000 barrels of crude oil a day, is a critical part of the region’s energy infrastructure.
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The fire may lead to an increase in local gas prices, said Tim Hamilton, executive director of Automotive United Trades Organization, a nonprofit group representing gas stations and suppliers in Washington state. A 15-cent-per-gallon increase was already coming our way before the fire, Hamilton said.
If damage is “very minimal,” Hamilton said, motorists may see no additional spike at the pumps. But they could see more, he said, depending on the degree of damage and how long it impacts the refinery.
Wholesale prices that dealers pay for fuel have gone up about 15 cents in King County over the past week, Hamilton said, and all of that should be reflected at the pumps in the next week.
Cherry Point, the third-largest refinery on the West Coast and the largest in Washington state, produces almost 9 million gallons of jet fuel, gasoline, diesel, butane and propane every day, according to BP. It produces about one-fifth of the gasoline supply in Washington and Oregon, and most of the jet fuel for Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, B.C. The refinery is also the largest West Coast supplier of jet fuel to the military, according to BP.
State officials said no oil or polluted runoff reached nearby waters, having been contained within the refinery.
Lisa Shumski, of Ferndale, said she was visiting her mother when she happened to look out the window around 2:25 p.m. and saw “giant plumes of black smoke and huge flames higher than the tops of trees.”
Shumski said both her house and her mother’s are about five miles east of the refinery.
Stretching over a square mile near Ferndale, about a two-hour drive north of Seattle, Cherry Point employs 700 full-time workers and 500 contractors.
BP acquired the 41-year-old refinery following a merger with ARCO in 2000.
BP says it has invested nearly $500 million in refinery upgrades in the past decade.
The state Department of Labor and Industries said it would investigate the response to Friday’s fire.
In 2010, state inspectors found 13 serious safety violations at the refinery, said Hector Castro, a department spokesman. BP did not appeal the citation. It paid a fine of $69,200 and agreed to correct the hazards.
The 2010 inspection was the refinery’s most recent one, Castro said, and focused on the largest processing unit, which refines low-grade oil into gasoline. Most of the serious violations involved regulations for managing highly hazardous chemicals.
Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or email@example.com