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PONCA CITY, Okla. -- A gasoline processing unit at ConocoPhillips' refinery exploded into flames yesterday, sending three workers to the hospital and a roiling cloud of smoke into the sky. None of the injuries was considered life-threatening, said ConocoPhillips spokesman Kenneth Ray. The blaze wasn't expected to hurt fuel supply to local gas stations and convenience stores.
The exact cause of the explosion was unknown and continues to be investigated, but refinery manager Ron Armstrong told the Associated Press the fire started with a leak of "gasoline-like material" as the unit was undergoing routine maintenance. Units around the facility were shut down to isolate the blaze. By late afternoon, the smoke plume had diminished significantly and Armstrong said, "things are greatly improving. The fire is contained. It's not spreading. We're letting it burn itself out."
A contract pipefitter working about 500 feet from the explosion said he heard a warning siren and then two blasts. "Everybody was running pretty hard," said Derek Bouchard. "And the guys who have to go in were running just as hard the other way."
Bouchard said he felt the heat from a fireball that he estimated shot as high as 100 feet.
The refinery, one of 12 owned by Houston-based ConocoPhillips, can process up to 194,000 barrels of oil per day producing gasoline, diesel, propane and petroleum coke.