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Czechowice-Dziedzice. Lightning struck an oil tank, a huge fire broke out in the refinery. 37 people died

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52 years ago, a fire broke out in Rafineria Nafty in Czechowice-Dziedzice (Silesian Voivodeship) after a lightning struck an element of an oil tank. 37 people died and 105 were injured.

On June 26, 1971, around 7.50 pm, a storm passed over Czechowice-Dziedzice. One of the lightning bolts hit the so-called breathing chimney of the oil tank. At that time, the tanks were not equipped with “floating roofs”, which prevent the accumulation of an explosive mixture above the surface of the oil. This is why the impact ignited the vapors accumulated in the tank, which contained about 10,000. tons of oil. The sound of the explosion was heard several kilometers away. Nothing happened then.

Within a few minutes, the fire covered the entire tank and the oil spilled on the “tray” next to it. More teams of professional and volunteer firefighters, as well as militiamen and soldiers, arrived at the site. The refinery’s extinguishing systems were out of order. Firefighters were only allowed to use their own equipment. From the accounts of the participants of the rescue operation, it appeared that not only the fire was out of control, but also the spontaneous extinguishing action.

About seven thousand tons of burning oil fell on firefighters

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During the extinguishing of the tank, tens of thousands of liters of water got into it, which heated the burning oil on the “tray”. After 1 a.m. on June 27, the water reached boiling point and began to work its way up the reservoir, lifting lighter crude oil. There was a mighty bubbling sound in the tank, and a moment later a pillar of fire shot upwards. About seven thousand tons of burning oil fell on firefighters and cars parked near the burning tank. 33 people died on the spot. Four more died in hospitals from burns. 105 people were injured. 22 fire trucks were destroyed.

Fire in the refinery in Czechowice-DziedziceStanisław Jakubowski/PAP

After the explosion, the fire spread to the acetone, benzene and toluene distillation department, the oil receiving front and the tankers and distillation columns standing there. He also threatened the power plant. For several hours, firefighters were unable to control the blaze. Only on June 29, after 3 p.m., did they launch an effective attack. One by one, refinery departments were extinguished. The operation, however, continued for three more days.

Multiple causes of fire

The fire had many causes. Firefighters later assessed that the most serious of these were too cramped and outdated design of the tanks, as there were no “floating roofs”, inadequate lightning protection and an inefficient cooling system for the tanks. There was a lack of appropriate technical equipment and extinguishing agents. Fire roads were poorly built. Asphalt was poured over them, which began to burn under the influence of heat.

Fire in the refinery in Czechowice-DziedziceStanisław Jakubowski/PAP

The reconstruction of the plant took several months. The fire contributed to increased safety at the refinery. The new tanks were built in a different part of the plant, at a safe distance from housing estates. They are equipped with a modern lightning and fire extinguishing system and “floating roofs”, thanks to which it is impossible for flammable vapors to accumulate above the oil surface.

It was the third fire this year

The tragic fire was the third one that happened in 1971 in the Czechowice refinery. Earlier, the distillation tower caught fire. Later, the fire consumed several dozen tankers under the filler. Both were extinguished by the company’s fire brigade.

Fire in the refinery in Czechowice-DziedziceKazimierz Seko/CAF/PAP

The refinery in Czechowice was, next to the refinery in Jedlicze, one of the oldest in the country. Their construction started in 1903 by the American company Socony Vacuum Oil Incorporation New York. Oil refining has not been carried out here for many years.

Main photo source: Kazimierz Seko/CAF/PAP

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