Sasol fire under investigation

February 1, 2007
Reported by Pam Dixon

It was around 7:05 Thursday morning when a fire broke out at the Sasol plant in Westlake. One witness reported seeing flames 200 feet high coming out of Sasol's Normal Paraffin Unit. Sasol Complex Manager Pat Brown says no one was injured and the fire posed no threat to the community. It was extinguished within 35 minutes. Brown says, "The material that we make here is not toxic or a hazardous type of material. We believe we contained it very well on site and for the community there really was no concern."

As a precaution, Sasol employees were told to shelter in place. Just across the street at the ConocoPhillips plant, several hundred employees there did the same thing. Carol Collins with ConocoPhillips says, "It was a large fire and there was smoke, so just to be safe we did issue a shelter in place for our employees. But from everything we understand, there was nothing in the air to cause any concern, so the shelter in place was lifted about 45 minutes after it was issued."

The shelter in place at Sasol was lifted after an hour and a half, and clean up got underway. Brown says, "Material, of course, came out of the pipes and burned. A majority of it burned right at the site and the operators and people were right on top of containing it, keeping everything on site. So we feel like we had a really good response." Now an investigation in underway to clear up the mystery of what set off the fire.

The unit that caught on fire is used to extract paraffins from kerosene. Paraffins are used in cleaners, printing ink, pesticides and charcoal lighter fluid.