The ExxonMobil oil refinery in Torrance was evacuated Thursday after a power outage caused an automatic system reset that sent up a huge flare of smoke and flame from a burn-off pipe. (Photo: ExxonMobil oil refinery entrance in Torrance, Calif. AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
Fire officials said the ExxonMobil oil refinery in Torrance was evacuated Thursday after a power outage -- blamed on a Mylar balloon -- caused an automatic system reset that sent up a huge flare of smoke and flame from a burn-off pipe.
Torrance fire Capt. Steve Deuel says the ExxonMobil refinery momentarily lost power at around 9:20 a.m. Thursday after a Mylar balloon blew into a nearby electrical substation.
He said that tripped restart systems and prompted a large burn-off of products.
Deuel said as a precaution, about 1,000 contract workers, such as electricians and pipefitters, were sent to a nearby park. After about two hours, some returned and others were sent home.
He said the outage didn't cause any equipment failure or serious air pollution but the refinery expects full production will take 12 to 24 hours to restore.
Update at 1:15 p.m.:
According to an ExxonMobil statement, "The instruments designed to detect emissions that may be harmful have detected zero readings." So-called “flaring” is not considered toxic in limited amounts, but the activity is regulated and monitored by regional air regulators.
During the burnoff operation, Del Amo Boulevard has remained closed. As of 1:01 p.m., the company reported it was still working to return operations to normal.
An ExxonMobil spokeswoman stressed that the Torrance Fire Department was on site and that there were no injuries.