MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Thousands of people are still waiting to be allowed back into their homes after an oil refinery explosion in the Duluth-Superior area Thursday morning.
Fire officials said the explosion of an asphalt tank at Husky Energy refinery in Superior happened at about 10:06 a.m. People as far as 20 miles away said it felt like an earthquake.
The blast hurt about 20 employees and contract workers, seriously injuring six people. There were no reported fatalities.
Residents located two miles to the north, three miles to the east and west and 10 miles to the south of the refinery in Superior were told to evacuate the area. Officers went door to door to aid in the evacuation.
The initial fire caused by the explosion was put out by noon, but then another fire broke out, causing a dozen more explosions. A massive plume of thick, toxic, black smoke began billowing from the refinery.
Fire officials said asphalt fueled the fire, which is extremely hot and hard to extinguish. The inferno was so dangerous that firefighters were kept away for hours.
Firefighters were able to isolate a dangerous hydrofluoric acid tank, and they used foam blankets to suppress vapors. The second fire was put out at about 6:42 p.m., but there is still a re-ignition threat Thursday night.
Here’s another look at the smoke plume from the #HuskyEnergy fire in #SuperiorWI; surface winds will continue to blow the smoke plume just a little east of due south through 8pm #wiwx #mnwx pic.twitter.com/chrbfyhY9y
— Mike Augustyniak (@MikeAugustyniak) April 26, 2018
Superior Mayor Jim Paine said the entire city of about 27,000 residents, as well as some neighboring communities, were urged to evacuate — totaling about 40,000 residents. Schools in Superior and nearby Maple will be closed Friday.
Paine said in a press conference Thursday evening that the worst was behind them.
“We got through this without a single fatality, with very few injuries. And our community responded by helping each other out, looking after one another and making sure that everybody got through this together,” Paine said.
Superior’s fire battalion chief said the duration of the evacuation order will depend on the winds and any possible future fires at the site. It is expected to stay in effect through early Friday.
The city of Duluth issued a shelter in place advisory Thursday night for the western portion of the city, urging residents with health issues to stay indoors and keep their windows closed.
Officials in Douglas County, Wisconsin, set up two information lines to help those affected: 715-395-1231 and 715 395-1497. Residents can also call Husky Energy’s assistance line at 1-800-686-3192.
The Duluth Convention Center opened its doors to temporarily house Wisconsin evacuees, and some Duluth hotels are offering discounted rates to help residents affected by the evacuation.
The Superior Refinery dates back to 1950, and was purchased last year by Husky Energy, a Canadian company based in Calgary. It produces 50,000 barrels of oil a day, and is the final stop for the Enbridge pipeline.
It is Wisconsin’s only refinery, and produces gasoline, asphalt and other products. That fuel is sold to Calumet-branded gas stations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.