SAN ANTONIO --
One person was critically injured in a refinery explosion and fire Wednesday on the city's Southeast side. One other worker was treated at the scene, said San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood. The critically injured victim was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center. A worker who was unaccounted for was found and was being treated for dehydration, Hood said.
The fire was mostly extinguished at about 4 p.m., a couple of hours after a Hazardous Materials team and a Technical Rescue team moved into the building and shut off valves that stopped the flow of fuel that were feeding a continuous fire that could be seen for miles across the city. Fire crews also put water on fuel tanks to cool them off to prevent further explosions. About 100 firefighters and dozens of police officers were on the scene.
About 100 workers were at AGE Refining at 7811 South Presa when an 18-wheeler exploded on a loading rack at 11:30 a.m., Hood said.
Residents living within a half-mile radius were evacuated. All Air Force and Department of Defense personnel were ordered to evacuate Brooks City-Base. Temporary shelters were opened for families living near the explosion at Highland and Forest Elementary Schools and at a Home Depot. Roads within a one-mile radius were closed off to traffic.
Residents at the Brook Village and the Park at Press apartments, a little less than a half mile from the blast, were told to get out by police officers going door to door.
"Police just let us know (at the) last minute (so I) got my 8-month-old baby and ... got out of there," said one resident.
Before heading out, several residents described the feeling of the blast.
"With every explosion our whole apartment's ... walls (were) shaking, like you were slamming the front door," said another resident. "The whole apartment just shook."
"I heard this loud boom, like I thought the world was going to come to an end," said resident Diane Lange. "I had no idea we even had a refinery plant. Ive lived here 8 years, and I didnt even know there was one across the street. I think thats very scary. So many things can happen, you know, it could have blown up this whole apartment complex."
"I saw heavy smoke and heavy fire up in the sky," said resident James Marmea. "It was a dangerous situation over there."
When the "all-clear" was called around 4:00 p.m., the shelter was no longer needed.
Concerns about the environmental impact the explosion could have on the nearby San Antonio river were voiced Wednesday. The concerns centered around chemicals and materials at the plant and the water used to fight the fire that could run off into the river.
Wednesday evening, fire officials indicated that no contamination of the river had occurred, but San Antonio River Authority said they are ready if something changes.
"We've got a plan working with the emergency office (where) we would have to put some type of containment booms across the river and try to contain anything that might move downstream," a SARA spokesman Mike Gonzalez.
Phil Goodman, AGE director of operations, stated, "The immediate cause of the fire appears to have been an explosion on one of the trucks loading a light hydrocarbon from the AGE loading rack."
An statement from AGE released Wednesday afternoon stated, "Currently, the incident is contained to the truck loading rack area. There are 66 above-ground storage tanks that are part of the facility and are not on fire. Additionally, none of the refining process units were affected by the incident. The ensuing smoke from this incident consists of combustion of finished hydrocarbon products. AGE has deployed emergency response personnel in the event there is environmental impact.
"The incident will be investigated fully, in cooperation with all appropriate authorities and agencies."
AGE CEO Glen Gonzalez stated, "We are grateful at this time that no fatalities occurred. We are working in cooperation with local fire and police officials and appreciate their service during this critical time."
The AGE facility it is a refiner of jet fuel and diesel products that was founded in 1991 when the owner bought the former Howell Refinery. On average, it refines 13,500 barrels a day and it has a tank farm storage capacity of 208,000 barrels. AGE Refinery has contracts to supply jet fuel to three Air Force bases in area. The company filed for bankruptcy reorganization in February 2010.
Wednesday's explosion wasn't the first time the refinery has sustained a fire. In August 2008, flames shot up into the air. But that time the fire was quickly put out and no one was injured in that incident. It was later determined that the fire was triggered by a power outage at the plant that caused one of the silos of oil to overfill.
Reporters David Sears, Jennifer Dodd and Simon Gutierrez contributed to this story.
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