An unused fuel storage tank being dismantled by welders caught fire Monday afternoon in South Philadelphia at the former Philadelphia Energy Solutions site, now owned by Hilco Redevelopment Partners and was declared under control several hours later.
The fire broke out about 1:15 p.m. at the tank on the 1,300-acre property off Penrose Avenue and South 26th Street. The Philadelphia Fire Department did not have to evacuate any residents, and no one was injured.
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Up to 100 firefighters responded. The fire was declared under control by 4:30 p.m. The Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the cause, according to Fire Department spokesperson Kathy Matheson.
The NorthStar Contracting Group, which is responsible for demolition at the PES site, said workers were performing “a routine torch cutting” of the empty oil tank and noticed smoke coming from the top of the tank, apparently from residue inside. NorthStar workers extinguished the “smoldering” fire with equipment that is kept on site, the statement said.
However, someone from outside PES called the Philadelphia Fire Department and firefighters assisted, as well as inspected the tank to ensure it was not burning.
NorthStar said there was no danger to the community and it will conduct an investigation.
The PES site was forced to close in June 2019 after a leak and explosion rattled the neighborhood and city, though no one was harmed. The city dodged several potential catastrophes during the blast that released 5,000 pounds of a deadly chemical and launched pieces of shrapnel as large as a truck hurtling across the refinery complex.
At the time, it was the East Coast’s largest refinery.
The property was sold in 2020 in bankruptcy court for $225.5 million to Hilco Redevelopment Partners, which pledged to demolish and clean up the site and rebuild it as a mixed-use industrial park.
Hilco Redevelopment Partners recently announced it and Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining & Marketing, which still owns the old refining infrastructure, and the city’s Air Management Services Department were planning an online public meeting Sept. 1 to inform the community about permit applications it was requesting for the former refinery and tank farm.
The former refinery is being demolished, including the tank farm.
A host of hazardous chemicals including cancer-causing benzene lurk beneath the land where crude oil was processed, stored, and shipped starting 150 years ago.
Many compounds, especially benzene, have been found to exceed levels set by the state as acceptable for nonresidential property, according to reports compiled by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Evergreen Resources Group, which is handling a cleanup plan for Sunoco and has posted thousands of pages of documents online. Sunoco owned the refinery for decades until 2012, when it was sold to PES.
NorthStar said it has demolished 50 oil tanks on site so far without incident.
Meanwhile, Hilco issued a statement saying it has “been in constant communication” with NorthStar, the Fire Department, and city officials regarding Monday’s fire.