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August 3, 2023

Historical Photos of 1958 Hancock Oil Refinery Fire on Signal Hill

One of the largest oil refinery fires in Southern California began at 2:08 p.m. on May 22, 1958 with an explosion at the Hancock Oil Company facility near the top of Signal Hill, according to retired Captain David Boucher. Two Hancock employees died in the blast, and it took the Los Angeles County, Long Beach and Signal Hill fire departments three days to control the fire that began in the petroleum storage facilities.

People watching the Hancock Oil Refinery Fire at Signal Hill, California. May 22, 1958. It was one of the largest fires in California history, and burned for three days.

As Boucher wrote in his book, Ride the Devil Wind:

“The fire became immediately uncontrollable, overpowering the Signal Hill Fire Department and a three-alarm-plus force from L.A. County and Long Beach. Sixteen oil storage tanks and a cracking tower soon became fully involved.

“As the fire spread throughout the 10-acre facility on the second day, a primary concern was the ability of the dikes surrounding the storage tanks to contain the burning fuel as it combined in volume with the thousands of gallons of water and foam being used for fire suppression…

“[O]n the third day, thanks to suppression and exposure protection by L.A. County, City of Long Beach and Signal Hill fire crews, as well as diminished fuel sources, control was achieved. The gigantic column of black smoke that had hovered over much of the Los Angeles Basin began to dissipate.”

The fire caused an estimated $15 million in damages—roughly $122 million in today’s dollars.

1 comment:

  1. I was a member of the USAF stationed at Long Beach municipal airport. I remember when the fire began and we we ordered to evacuate the base. They transported the personnel to local military bases but my NCOIC invited me to stay at his apartment that he shared with his wife, child and dog.




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