Flame and smoke erupts from the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, N.B., on Monday, September 8, 2018. (Stephen MacGillivray/The Canadian Press)

Fire, smoke fill Saint John sky after oil refinery blast: ‘My whole house shook’

Only four people received minor injuries

A massive oil refinery blast shook the historic port city of Saint John New Brunswick Monday, sending flames and black smoke high into the sky but causing only four minor injuries — and leaving officials relieved it wasn’t far worse.

“We’re very grateful today — and being Thanksgiving, I think it’s appropriate,” Kevin Scott, Irving Oil’s chief refining and supply officer, told reporters at an afternoon briefing after a tense day. “Very fortunate they had only minor injuries.”

Saint John residents described feeling an explosion at about 10:15 a.m. local time, at Irving’s refinery on the city’s east side.

“My whole house shook. I thought my furnace had exploded,” said Litsa Daeres, 34, who opened her curtains and saw the flames and thick, black smoke.

Scott said there had been a malfunction in the refinery’s diesel treating unit, where sulphur is removed from diesel fuel.

One worker at the refinery, who didn’t want to be identified, said the initial blast had been enough to knock him down.

“There was quite a shockwave when the blast happened,” he said as he left with co-workers hours afterward.

There were as many as 3,000 workers on the refinery Monday — but most of the facility was shut down for major maintenance, and nearly all of the workers were contractors working on the turn-around.

Scott said the unit was quickly shut down after the blast.

“The fire did take a number of hours to extinguish, with some of the material that had leaked into the area of the unit that was affected. At times we were letting that just safely extinguish itself,” he said.

Most of the minor injuries were to contractors, not Irving staff, he said.

The refinery is near several residential neighbourhoods, and is about five kilometres from the city core, known as Uptown.

According to the Irving Oil web site, the refinery produces more than 320,000 barrels of “finished energy products” every day, with more than half going the U.S. northeast. Scott said they hope to minimize the impact on clients.

At 4 p.m. local time, residents were still being asked to stay in their homes, and nearby streets remained closed. But District Chief Mike Carr of Saint John fire said there were no air quality concerns, other than the smoke.

“At this time, the incident is stabilized,” said Carr.

The thick, black plume of smoke earlier in the day had been cause for concern for Gordon Dalzell, who lives in the nearby subdivision of Chaplain Heights — but the bigger issue, he said, is the other pollutants in the air that can be neither seen nor smelled.

Dalzell, the chair of Saint John’s Citizens Coalition for Clean Air, said the refinery already emits many different types of “volatile organic compounds” into the air: organic chemicals that have a high vapour pressure and can be hazardous to human health.

“Obviously, there was a lot of black, sooty smoke … but I worry more about what you can’t see in terms of pollution that comes from the refinery,” he said. “The pollutants you can’t see or smell, they’re the ones that are of great, great concern, on a regular basis.”

He said he was grateful that nobody was seriously injured, but he hopes the incident will help stakeholders reconsider the continued use of fossil fuels when greener options are available.

READ MORE: Oil refinery explosion shakes Saint John, but no reports of serious injuries

Like others in the area Thanksgiving morning, Dalzell was shocked by the initial explosion.

“Our house actually shook, our windows, we could feel the direct impact of the explosion in our house … it didn’t take very long to discover, of course, that a very heavy black plume was coming from the site,” he said.

“We thought we were going to have to evacuate and take the turkey with us.”

Nate Guimond, 36, said he was doing house repairs when he looked outside and saw the scene.

“There was thick, pitch black smoke mixed with white smoke,” said Guimond. “I heard a rumbling, roaring sound.”

He decided to drive by the refinery, and said he was nearby when he felt the vibrations of what he assumed must be a second explosion.

Michael Steeves said he was driving about a kilometre away when he saw flames reach as high as 100 feet in the air. He said the incident reminded him of a similar event in the late 90s, when the same refinery suffered a similar explosion which left one person dead.

“Just seeing the clouds, and what they’ve got closed off, it just seems to be a pretty similar level of event,” he said.

The Saint John Regional Hospital had issued an “orange alert,” meaning it was preparing for a possible influx of patients. But the health authority later tweeted that the hospital “is running as usual today.”

— With files from Alex Cooke in Halifax and Alanna Rizza and Nicole Thompson in Toronto.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Pig Roast and the dance was held June 22nd

Castor Rodeo, which was postponed due to weather, will proceeed on July 11th and 12th

Stettler County continues to work with Paradise Shores developers

The County issued a Stop Order for the site in May

Local woman recalls potentially deadly injury from mowing the lawn

Shannon McTavish underwent extensive surgery after metal piece lodged in her neck

Local archers off to international competition in Nashville

Deacon Barclay, Katlyne Glasier and Taylor Knudtson landed in the top 24 of NASP Canadian archers recently

County of Paintearth adopts employee discipline policy

The new policy outlines a standard procedure for administration to follow

Air Canada reviewing how crew left sleeping passenger on parked plane

In a Facebook post, the woman said she woke up ‘all alone’ on a ‘cold dark’ aircraft

Late night fight in Wetaskiwin results in aggravated assault, assault with a weapon charges

Wetaskiwin RCMP investigate armed robbery and aggravated assault

Top B.C. court upholds ruling that struck down indefinite solitary confinement

Feds had appealed ruling in case brought by B.C. Civil Liberties Association, John Howard Society

Maskwacis featured in documentary series that unearths Indigenous cuisine

Red Chef Revival’s host visits community, elders and Nipisihkopahk School

PHOTOS: Event marks one year since soccer team rescued from Thai cave

Nine players and coach took part in marathon and bike event to help improve conditions at cave

Fighter Jets light up Bucs’ to take AFL first place

38-3 loss puts Central Alberta into second place in the AFL

PHOTOS: Scamp the Tramp wins World’s Ugliest Dog Contest

‘He’s Scamp the Champ, no longer Scamp the Tramp,’ his Californian owner said.

Deals on paid time off for domestic violence ‘beginning of a wave,’ says expert

Philippines was the first country to pay for domestic-violence leave, starting in 2004

Calgary Flames select forward Jakob Pelletier with the No. 26 pick

The 18-year-old winger from Quebec City had spoken with the club earlier in the day and knew they were interested

Most Read