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Fire rips major LA oil refinery

A fire raging at Tosco's oil refinery near

Los Angeles late Monday sent clouds of black smoke some 3,000 feet into the
air and promised to send gasoline prices soaring sky high as well.

No injuries were reported at the plant located in the South Bay refinery
district, however residents of the area were being advised to stay inside to
avoid the intense heat and to stay clear of the harmful smoke.

Los Angeles County firefighters, along with the refinery fire brigade,
were unable to do much to extinguish the roaring blaze that was burning in
and around a coker unit, which is used to break down crude oil into the
lighter-density components for gasoline and other fuel.

Commuters on the busy San Diego and Long Beach Freeways were able to
clearly see the smoky fire, which broke out shortly before 5 p.m. PDT. Smoke
was drifting south through nearby Long Beach and south into the beach town
of Seal Beach. At least one runway was closed at the Long Beach Airport; the
Los Angeles International Airport, to the north, was not effected, however.

The cause of the fire was not immediately known, although witnesses told
Los Angeles television stations that they had heard an explosion just before
the fire broke out.

Refinery engineers triggered emergency systems that began flaring off the
petroleum in the refinery's system of machinery and pipes.

While the extent of the damage likely won't be known until later this
week, there is an excellent chance the fire will spark higher gasoline
prices in California and possibly Arizona and other western states.

California law requires the sale of gasoline produced using specifications
unique to the state. It will be difficult for Tosco's production to be made
up from sources outside the state.

Tosco, the largest independent refiner in the United States, refines around
350,000 barrels of crude oil per day at its three West Coast refineries
located in Los Angeles, Martinez, Calif., and Ferndale, Wash.

The Avon plant, located in the San Francisco Bay Area community of
Martinez, was the site of an explosion and fire on Feb. 23, 1999 that killed
four workers and injured 46 others.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board issued a report
just last month stating that better safety management and planning could
have prevented the explosion that occurred as maintenance crews were
attempting to remove a leaky pipe on a distillation unit known as a