Power lines in Southern California. Photo by John Schreiber.
Power lines in Southern California. Photo by John Schreiber.

A major power outage blacked out several South Bay cities Tuesday morning, including parts of Torrance, where flames and black smoke shot skyward as part of a refinery flare-off triggered by the outage.

The refinery was shut down and partially evacuated as a precaution, officials said. Some experts speculated that the shutdown could lead to increased gasoline prices in the coming days in Southern California, but that was not confirmed by officials.

While more dramatic than dangerous, a flare-off is a safety procedure that refineries use “to relieve pressure and ensure gases are safely combusted to minimize releases to the atmosphere,” according to the Torrance Fire Department. The result is a length of fire and black smoke shooting into the air from what looks like a vertical pipe.

The power outage, reported at 5:41 a.m., affected about 100,000 Southern California Edison customers in parts of Gardena, Hawthorne, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Torrance, the utility reported.

Electricity was restored to 63,000 of those customers by 6:12 a.m., and all remaining customers had their power back by 7 a.m., according to an SCE statement released this afternoon.

The outage led to a flare-off at the Torrance Refining Co., which was shut down and partially evacuated, according to the Torrance police and fire departments.

“The … refining company will continue planned flaring for the next few days while the refinery comes back online,” the police department said in a statement early this afternoon.

Earlier, Torrance Fire Department Capt. Bob Millea described the events that followed the initial power outage.

“(The) refinery evacuated all non-essential employees and accounted for all personnel,” Millea said. “Torrance Fire Department and refinery personnel monitored the perimeter of the refinery and received no offsite readings.”

One refinery worker was taken to a hospital for evaluation, according to Millea, who said firefighters remained on scene “to coordinate with refinery personnel to help bring their units back on line.”

Two flare-offs took place at the refinery about a month ago, both related to electrical problems.

Shortly after this morning’s event was triggered, the city of Torrance issued an emergency notification to residents.

“If you live in the area near the refinery, implement ‘shelter in place’ procedures,” the city instructions said. “Stay inside buildings, shut all doors and windows, turn off air conditioners, and turn off all air handling systems. You will be notified when there is a change in status. If you have a life threatening emergency, please dial 911.”

The shelter-in-place order was lifted about 7:30 a.m., Millea said.

However, the Torrance Unified School District declared today a “student free day,” which means students stay home but staffers must report for work, Millea said.

—City News Service

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