Officials discuss safety protocols after Calcasieu Refining fire

Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 9:02 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - When an emergency like the fire at Calcasieu Refining happens, three methods of contact are usually used to reach out to residents.

However, some would beg to differ after the chain of events Saturday. 7News asked officials about the plan moving forward for emergencies like the Calcasieu Refining fire.

Russ Willmon, President and CEO of the Calcasieu Refining Company explained what led to the fire.

“We had a pretty strong lightning storm come through the area, a thunderstorm, there was a lot of lightning. One of the lightning bolts hit the edge of this tank and it set the top of the tank on fire,” Willmon said.

It happened a little before 2 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, something no one saw coming.

“This does not happen in this industry very often so this was a first-time event for a lot of us,” Willmon said.

Almost immediately, a shelter-in-place was put out which not all residents received. Dick Gremillion, Director of Homeland Security explained why.

“The sirens are designed to catch people that are outdoors, so they have about a one-mile radius. So, depending on whether if you are in your house and you have your TV on or your AC on, you may not hear your siren unless you’re very close to it,” Gremillion said.

Homeland security also reached out to residents through the ring-down and text system, “Calcashout.”

“Over 1,634 confirmed that they received the message, 6,028 was unreachable and 19,000 was unconfirmed,” assistant director of Homeland Security Jared Maze said.

And now Calcasieu Refining said they are working on the following for future events.

“We’re working with the companies to make lightning go somewhere else,” Willmon said.

The mayor’s office also responded to the fire with the following statement:

“Fifteen CAER Emergency Sirens are located inside the City of Lake Charles. The sirens were assessed post-storm and of the 15, 10 could be repaired. These sirens are tested weekly and as of today, Monday, June 5, eight sirens are operational. Two are currently undergoing repairs. The remaining five sirens were determined to be beyond repair and are scheduled for replacement as part of a larger upgrade project the Calcasieu Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness is working on parish-wide.

On Saturday, June 3, 2023, the Lake Charles Police Department used its Nixle system to communicate traffic and evacuation information to more than 10,400 subscribers. Alert messaging was also relayed via the Lake Charles City Hall, Lake Charles Police Department and Lake Charles Fire Department Facebook pages. Personnel with the Lake Charles Police Department and Lake Charles Fire Department also made many in person contacts to alert surrounding residents of the evacuation orders.”