1 Marathon Petroleum employee dies in Texas City refinery fire, company says

Two other workers were hurt.

Monday, May 15, 2023
Marathon employee dies in Texas City refinery fire, company says
One Marathon Petroleum employee has died from the fire that broke out at its Texas City refinery on Monday, the company said.

TEXAS CITY, Texas (KTRK) -- Marathon Petroleum has confirmed one employee's death in the wake of a fire that broke out at its Texas City refinery on Monday.

"We are deeply saddened to report that a Marathon employee has passed away as a result of the fire today at Marathon Petroleum's Galveston Bay refinery," a company statement read. "We extend our deepest sympathies to our employee's family, friends and co-workers, and our thoughts are with them as we all mourn his passing. The safety of our workers and the community is our top priority, and a full investigation will be conducted to determine the cause of the incident."

The identity of the worker was not immediately released, and it wasn't immediately known if any other people were injured.

The statement, which ABC13 obtained just after 2:30 p.m., came a couple of hours after Texas City police said the fire was under control and contained.

According to Marathon, the fire started at approximately 9:30 a.m. It was unclear what exactly sparked the flames.

The Texas City police added that no shelter in place is needed and there is no threat to the community. Marathon said air monitoring is being conducted as a precaution.

Residents who live within a mile of the plant voiced frustrations with the city's lack of communication about what happened.

The Texas City Emergency Management Department has a free text alert system that is advertised on its website as being able to provide those who sign up with "critical information quickly in a variety of situations."

Mildred Barton, Irene Reyes, and Chris Fajkus are all signed up for the emergency alert texts. All three said they did not receive any notification.

Barton said she heard an alarm going off at the plant this morning but did not think twice about it. She said it goes off somewhat frequently.

She later got a call from her mother saying there was a plant fire.

"I went to ABC13, and the first thing on y'all's page was there was a fire there," Barton explained. "I just think it's also kind of wrong because I did sign up for the alerts from the system to alert us when there is something going on at the plant, and no alerts. Nothing."

She questioned what would have happened if she needed to leave her home.

"(Is the city) going to wait till the last minute to tell us, and then we can't leave because it blows up or something?" Barton asked.

Reyes said she learned about the fire from a friend who posted about it on Facebook. She says she wishes she knew because her air conditioning was running all day, and she would have turned it off.

"You don't know which way the wind is blowing if whatever it is that is leaking is coming straight directly," Reyes said. "We are so close. It's very important."

An ABC13 crew told Fajkus about the plant fire for the first time.

"I decided to live here with my family," Fajkus said. "I expect the local government to try to take care of us the best way that they can, and it seems like they're failing by not doing what they told us they would do."

He said he is aware of how quickly conditions can change during a fire at a refinery, and if he had known, he might have packed a bag in case he had to leave his home.

"Explosions can happen in the middle of nowhere, and it can get pretty dangerous and cause a lot of issues, and I don't want to be around when that does happen," Fajkus said.

ABC13 reached out to several people in Texas City's Emergency Management Department to find out why a text was not sent out through the alert system but could not reach anyone.

Despite the city saying in a tweet that a shelter-in-place is not needed, Barton questioned it.

"They are making chemicals there, so why wouldn't it affect the air?" Barton questioned. "It's just common sense."

Dr. Kathleen Garland, a senior lecturer in the environmental management program at UH-Clear Lake, said the fire itself affects air quality.

"A plume of combustion products coming off of a chemical fire -- to my mind, we start with that risk to the community," Garland explained. "The question is, 'What's in it?' And it can be very hard to determine what that risk is."

She said it typically takes a few hours to get someone out to monitor air quality in the community, and by that point, typically, the particles have passed through already.

SkyEye flew over the refinery just before 11 a.m. Monday, where large flames and a plume of black smoke could be seen rising into the air. Firefighters were seen dousing the flames in water.

An earlier Marathon statement didn't make clear about injuries or deaths, but it mentioned that "all employees and contractors are being accounted for currently."

The full statement, which ABC13 obtained just after 11:45 a.m., read:

"Marathon Petroleum crews are responding to a fire at the company's Galveston Bay refinery that began on Monday, May 15, at approximately 9:30 a.m. Central Time. Emergency Responders are on the scene, and all employees and contractors are being accounted for currently. Crews have deployed air monitoring in the community as a precaution. All regulatory notifications have been made."