The refinery complex processes roughly 335,000 barrels of crude oil per day, about 14 million US gallons, and is one of the largest refineries on the east coast, according to the company's website.
This creates a dilemma for the fire department, Murphy said, because if firefighters were to put out the fire, "whatever's blowing out of the main blows right into the atmosphere".
The massive fire and the explosions that witnesses and nearby residents heard and saw rocked the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refining Complex, which started its first refining operations back in 1870.
Residents reported several explosions that were felt in South Jersey and Delaware County, Pennsylvania, according to WPVI.
Photos and videos published on social media show the facility engulfed by a massive fireball - reported as a 3-alarm fire by local reports.
By mid-afternoon, the city's fire department was working with PES in its response to the fire, though it was letting the flammable gases burn under control.
There are no reports yet of any injuries. This set off a series of other explosions as the fire spread across the facility. Murphy says employees were far enough away from the initial explosion in the butane Value-Added Tax.
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Preliminary testing at the refinery and the adjacent community shows no "ambient carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons [combustibles], or hydrogen sulfide", said Philadelphia Department of Public Health spokesperson James Garrow in a statement. Tanks surrounding the area are being cooled as a precaution, he said.
Earlier, a part of the Schuylkill Expressway (Interstate 76) was closed, but it has since been re-opened, the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management said in a series of tweets.
The fire is contained on the property off Passyunk Avenue of the refinery, fire officials said shortly before 6 a.m. There is no word yet on what caused the fire.
The region already experiences high retail gasoline costs, and is likely to boost fuel imports from Europe and likely to result in a short-term spike in East Coast gasoline prices, analysts at FGE Energy said in a note.
The PES complex, which comprises the Point Breeze and Girard Point plants, can handle a total of 335,000 barrels of crude a day.