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

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Regional District of North Okanagan is asking Vernon-based Tolko Industries to halt a planned cut block 500 metres above the Duteau Creek water intake, which provides 60 per cent of the Greater Vernon water supply April 22, 2021. (File photo)
Tolko urged to halt planned logging above Greater Vernon water supply

RDNO says planned cutblock above Duteau Creek could threaten 60 per cent of Vernon area water supply

An Ontario-based company has signed a contract with the CSRD to managethe Sicamous and District Rec Centre. (File Photo)
Ontario-based company gets management contract for Sicamous rec centre

CSRD approves contract with Nustadia Recreation

Thirteen demonstrators laid signs and demanded justice for lost sisters April 22, 2021, as Curits Wayne Sagmoen’s cop assault charge went before the court. (Jennifer Smith - Vernon Morning Star)
Sagmoen to stand trial in Vernon for cop assault

Trial is estimated to last five days, defence lawyer says

Salmon Arm Silverbacks forward Simon Tassy (11) tries to set a screen in front of West Kelowna goalie Johnny Derrick with Warriors defenceman Skyler Cameron trying to prevent it. Tassy scored twice in the Silverbacks’ 5-2 B.C. Hockey League pod play win Wednesday, April 21, at Vernon’s Kal Tire Place. (Tami Quan Photography)
Salmon Arm Silverbacks slip past West Kelowna

Simon Tassy scores twice as Gorillas dump Warriors 5-2 in B.C. Hockey League pod play in Vernon

Weekly COVID-19 data for April 11 to 17, 2021 on new cases reported in North Okanagan-Shuswap health areas show Vernon, Armstrong and Revelstoke going down, Salmon Arm holding steady and Enderby with small increase. (British Columbia Centre for Disease Control image)
Just one North Okanagan-Shuswap health area sees rise in new COVID-19 cases

Latest weekly data available shows Enderby with small increase, Salmon Arm holding steady

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

(Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time up-keeping the yard? You may be unintentionally contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Wife and husband duo Alexis Esseltine and Timothy Scoon n took over Penticton’s Tin Whistle Brewing in October, 2020 and are making their mark on the iconic brew-spot by announcing a new look and an environmental focus. (Contributed)
South Okanagan’s original brewery goes eco-friendly under new ownership

Tin Whistle Brewing is now one of the first certified carbon neutral breweries in B.C.

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP arrested a suspected impaired driver who took an unauthorized short cut to a Coldstream roadway. (File photo)
Impaired driver on slippery slope with Vernon RCMP

Person caught leaving locked Coldstream parking lot by taking unauthorized shortcut to roadway

A police officer stands by a kayak that overturned on Mission Creek in Kelowna on Thursday, April 22. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kayakers flip in Kelowna’s Mission Creek, lose two boats

Two overturned kayaks were spotted floating down the waterway on Thursday, kayaker says everybody made it out safely

Are you considering any ambitious home renovation projects? The Okanagan Regional Library can help. (Black Press file photo)
COLUMN: Redecorate your home with help from the library

Plenty of resources in place for home decoration projects

Peyton Slind enjoys the fruits of his labour. Photo submitted
B.C. youngster builds hammock out of 900 plastic bags

“I’m going to enjoy it until it splits in half.”

Most Read