1979 Torrance oil tank fire

On Monday, Dec. 3, 1979, vapors leaking from a gasoline storage tank at the Mobil Oil facility in Torrance ignited, causing a major explosion. Three people were killed. Firefighters contained the flames to the storage tank, then for two days allowed the remaining gasoline to burn. The smoke plume was seen all over the Los Angeles Basin – and photographed by Los Angeles Times photographers.

Staff writer Roger Smith reported in the Dec. 6, 1979 Los Angeles Times:

The crumpled Mobil Oil Corp. tank was still coughing flames and smoke Wednesday morning as 300 nearby residents, who had been evacuated Tuesday, began moving back into their homes. …

Firefighters speculated that the fire was caused by an electrical spark which ignited vapors leaking from the tank. One refinery worker was killed Monday when the tank first exploded. A second worker and a passing motorist, who also were engulfed by the initial explosion, died Tuesday at a Torrance hospital.

The fire consumed 1.8 million gallons of unleaded gasoline, which has a retail value of more than $2 million. The Tank melted into a smoldering heap.

Firefighters kept the fire from spreading by pouring up to 200,000 gallons of water a minute on surrounding fuel tanks. At the height of the blaze Tuesday, 32 fire engines and 125 firefighters battled the flames.

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