Evacuees return after Calcasieu Refining fire forces them to leave home

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Published: Jun. 4, 2023 at 11:45 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Lightning strikes like this one could be seen across Southwest Louisiana during a Saturday afternoon storm.

Lightning strikes the ground Saturday, June 3, 2023, near where a Calcasieu Refining tank...
Lightning strikes the ground Saturday, June 3, 2023, near where a Calcasieu Refining tank containing naphtha was ignited by lightning.(KPLC viewer / Brady Solomon)

One of those strikes filled the skies with smoke above a crude oil tank struck at Calcasieu Refining.

“We heard the lightning strike and you know, we spent our time, they walked out the door and we walked out, first thing when you walk out the house you could see the smoke,” Fritz Bennerscheidt said.

Bennerscheidt lives in the Graywood Subdivision. He said when he and his family went outside after the storm, they knew something was wrong.

“All of us were sitting there like ‘golly something serious must be going on’,” he said. “Then we looked down at our phones, my wife had 46 messages in that 20-minute span and it was a surprise to us but we got going quick after that.”

“I was coaching baseball and my wife was asleep and she said she got woken up by police officers like The Purge almost, on their microphone and sirens,” Graywood resident Garin Cecchini said. “And she said ‘should we leave?’ I said ‘absolutely’.”

Residents at the Graywood subdivision were part of a 1.5-mile radius from Calcasieu Refining forced to evacuate Saturday afternoon. They weren’t able to return until hours later, early Sunday morning.

“We just want people to know that safety, personal safety, of our residents is our number one priority,” Calcasieu OHSEP director Dick Gremillion said.

Gremillion said some residents were transported to Burton Coliseum for shelter during the evacuation.

Residents now home safe, but still reflecting on what they say was a chaotic weekend.

“Anytime when you have a mandatory evacuation it’s kind of scary,” Cecchini said.

The fire was put out around 4 a.m. Sunday and the evacuation order was lifted shortly after.