Refinery blast tears through neighborhood
Woods Cross » Homes damaged, displaced families question plant safety.
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When Linda Wood returned to her house after volunteering at Woods Cross Elementary school Wednesday morning, she found her windows shattered, doors blown off and cupboards dislodged.

In fact, an explosion at the nearby Silver Eagle Refinery blew the entire house off its foundation.

"I can't believe the damage," Wood, 44, said of her now-condemned home. "It looks like an earthquake."

There were no injuries after a hydrogen and diesel fuel line leaked and the pool ignited at Silver Eagle Refinery, 2355 S. 1100 West, about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, but the shockwave was felt as far away as Farmington. For those living behind the complex, the shock is still being felt.

About nine other houses were severely damaged, and many more had broken windows and light structural damage.

On Wednesday, residents questioned the safety of the facility. An explosion in January at the same refinery injured four workers and is still under investigation by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. The agency will also investigate Wednesday's explosion.

"It's too early to tell if there's a specific relationship between the two events, but we're concerned," said Daniel Horowitz, a spokesman for the agency. "Past history is one factor we look at when we send out investigators."

Brittany Bennett, 28, who lives across from the Wood home, said she knew about the refinery when she moved in but didn't think it would be risky to live there.

"When you build something, you think that things have been put in place or done so your house will be safe," she said. "I don't mind having the smell or the noise, but it's another thing to have it be dangerous or life-threatening."

Several windows exploded at her house, throwing glass more than 10 feet.

The refinery has hired a company to help homeowners with cleanup.

"We are truly sorry this has occurred," said Dave McSwain, president of Silver Eagle Refining. "We recognize this has been a trauma to many people and we are trying to reduce the impact of this accident as much as possible."

McSwain said about 120 people live near the refinery, and about a dozen reported damage to their homes.

At Kristi Horne's house, the explosion cracked walls and dislodged sheetrock. Moving wouldn't be easy because the house was customized for her husband Brian's wheelchair.

"I think someone should do something," she said, noting previous explosions. "Obviously something has to change over there."

Bennett agreed, saying, "I would do anything now to make sure it gets shut down, because this is ridiculous."

But Dan Beecher, safety manager at Silver Eagle, said all safety procedures were followed. The company is investigating how the leak started and how it ignited.

"It's hard to say exactly how it could have been done differently without knowing what happened," he said.

Jeff Bassett, the South Davis Metro Fire deputy fire chief, said Silver Eagle crews had the fire under control when his team arrived. The fire was extinguished within 10 minutes.

Smoke blackened the skies, but it came from other refineries nearby. There are five in the area, and Bassett said the explosion could have caused a brief power outage. When a refinery loses power, it begins to "flare" in order to burn off product that isn't being processed, said Cindy Gubler, a spokeswoman for Silver Eagle and Holly refineries.

Parry said the company's emergency response has improved since January's explosion. Silver Eagle bought new fire gear and a fire truck, and it sent eight employees to Reno for fire training.

"Their response was much better, much greater than it was in the past," Parry said.

In fact, the company had organized an open house for Nov. 12, partly to show residents its safety features. Many residents opened their mailboxes Wednesday to find a letter inviting them to the open house.

"Yes, I will be there. I'm not sure yet what I'm going to say, but I'll have something by then," said resident Nick Bennett.

As for Wood, she'll stay with her parents or in-laws for a couple of nights, then move to a hotel paid for by the refinery until the house can be rebuilt. A few other families will go to the hotel as well, Parry said. Wood's neighbors emptied her home of its contents in an hour, and she'll be back.

"I love my neighbors. I love this area," she said. "I thought it was safe from the refinery."

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Jason Bergreen contributed to this report.

Open investigations

Three of the eight open federal investigations into refinery fires or explosions nationwide are in the Salt Lake City area.

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is still investigating a flash fire at the Silver Eagle Refinery in Woods Cross from January and will also investigate Wednesday's explosion. The third fire happened on Oct. 21 at the Tesoro refinery in Salt Lake City.

The federal agency investigates only a small portion of the 150 U.S. refinery fires or explosions.

Source: U.S. Chemical Safety Board spokesman Daniel Horowitz

Previous problems at the Silver Eagle Refinery

Past explosions » On Jan. 12, a gasoline tank explosion severely burned four workers and forced the evacuation of nearly 100 homes. On Aug. 15, 2007, a pipeline that feeds a distillation unit caught fire. On May 6, 2007, crude oil caught fire in a furnace. In 2005, a diesel line in a furnace caught fire.

Citations » Two citations and notifications of penalty after a 2004 inspection.