The community surrounding the Phillips 66 refinery in Billings, Montana is recovering from the stressful events of February 9, 2024. According to reports, not one – but two – fires erupted at the refinery causing community-wide concern. An incident like this one puts firefighters and the community on high alert to the potential dangers of refinery fires and their impact on those in the community.

Refinery fires can be catastrophic and life-changing for those working in refineries, as well as those living nearby. At Kherkher Garcia, we know how devastating the impact of a refinery fire can be. Our personal injury attorneys are dedicated to helping victims of refinery fires and explosions understand their legal rights and pursue justice and compensation. To learn more about refinery fires, injuries, and how our attorneys may be able to help you, read on.

What we Know about the Phillips 66 Refinery Fires

On February 9, 2024, the Phillips 66 refinery in Billings experienced two separate fires within a single day. The first fire erupted in the afternoon, sending a plume of black smoke visible for miles and prompting concerns from nearby residents. No evacuation orders were issued, but officials did warn anyone down-wind of the smoke to relocate. Thankfully, no injuries were reported.

Firefighters were able to extinguish the initial blaze, but it reignited later that evening, requiring another round of firefighting efforts. The cause of both fires remains under investigation by Phillips 66 and hasn’t been made public yet. While the fires didn’t result in any harm to people, they have understandably worried the Billings community, particularly those living near the refinery.

Common Causes of Refinery Fires

While two refinery fires in a single day is an uncommon occurrence, refinery fires are unfortunately common. Refinery fires can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Equipment Malfunction: Failures in equipment such as pumps, compressors, valves, or heaters can lead to leaks, overheating, or other conditions that may result in fires.
  • Human Error: Mistakes made during maintenance, operations, or during the handling of hazardous materials can trigger fires. This includes errors in following safety procedures, improper handling of flammable substances, or failure to detect potential hazards.
  • Electrical Issues: Electrical faults, short circuits, or sparks can ignite flammable vapors or substances present in the refinery environment.
  • Chemical Reactions: Uncontrolled chemical reactions within the refinery process can generate heat and lead to fires. This might occur due to improper mixing of substances, unexpected interactions, or runaway reactions.
  • Leakage: Leakage of flammable gases, liquids, or other hazardous materials due to damaged pipelines, valves, or storage tanks can create a fire hazard.
  • Ignition Sources: External sources of ignition such as welding, cutting, grinding, or static electricity can ignite flammable materials if proper precautions are not taken.
  • Natural Events: Natural events such as lightning strikes, earthquakes, floods, or storms can cause damage to refinery infrastructure and trigger fires.
  • Sabotage or Terrorism: Deliberate acts of sabotage or terrorism aimed at disrupting refinery operations or causing harm can lead to fires.
  • Aging Infrastructure: Deterioration or wear and tear of refinery equipment and infrastructure over time can increase the risk of failures and fires.
  • Poor Maintenance Practices: Inadequate maintenance practices, including lack of regular inspections, repairs, and replacement of worn-out components, can contribute to equipment failures and fire incidents.

To mitigate the risk of refinery fires, strict adherence to safety protocols, regular equipment inspections, proper training of personnel, and implementation of robust safety measures are essential.

Common Injuries Reported in Refinery Fires

In refinery fires, injuries can vary widely depending on the severity of the fire, the specific circumstances of the incident, and the effectiveness of safety measures in place. However, some common types of injuries that can occur in refinery fires include:


Burns are among the most common injuries in refinery fires. They can range from minor to severe, affecting the skin and underlying tissues. Burns can result from direct contact with flames, hot surfaces, or exposure to hot gases and liquids. Burn injuries are classified based on how deeply they affect the layers of your skin:

  • First-degree burns: These are the mildest, affecting only the outer layer (epidermis). Think mild sunburn – red, painful, but no blisters and heals within days without scarring.
  • Second-degree burns: Deeper, involving the epidermis and part of the dermis (deeper layer). They appear red, blistered, swollen, and painful, healing in 2-3 weeks with possible minor scarring.
  • Third-degree burns: Destroy both the epidermis and dermis, appearing white or charred with no sensation. These are very serious and require medical attention, often leaving significant scarring or needing skin grafts.
  • Fourth-degree burns: The most severe, affecting even deeper tissues like muscle and bone. They look charred and numb, requiring extensive medical care and potentially leading to amputation or other complications.

Inhalation Injuries

Inhaling smoke, toxic fumes, and other hazardous substances released during a refinery fire can cause respiratory injuries. These injuries may range from irritation of the airways to more serious conditions such as chemical pneumonitis or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).

  • Chemical Pneumonitis: Occurs when you breathe in toxic fumes, gases, or liquids that irritate your lungs. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent complications.
  • ARDS: ARDS is a serious lung injury that develops quickly, often as a complication of another illness or injury. It causes fluid to build up in the tiny air sacs of the lungs, making it difficult to breathe and deliver oxygen to the body.


Traumatic injuries such as cuts, bruises, fractures, and crush injuries can occur due to explosions, collapsing structures, or falling objects during refinery fires.

Smoke Inhalation

Inhaling smoke can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which can cause symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, and loss of consciousness. In severe cases, carbon monoxide poisoning can be life-threatening.

Thermal Injuries

Exposure to high temperatures during refinery fires can cause heat-related injuries such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, particularly in workers involved in firefighting or rescue operations. Heatstroke is the most severe form of heat-related illness and can be life-threatening. It occurs when your body overheats and is unable to cool down, causing your core body temperature to rise rapidly, often exceeding 104°F (40°C). This can lead to organ damage, brain damage, and even death if not treated promptly.

Chemical Exposure

Refinery fires may release hazardous chemicals into the environment, increasing the risk of chemical exposure and poisoning. Chemical burns, skin irritation, and systemic toxicity can result from contact with these substances.

Eye Injuries

Fires can produce intense heat, smoke, and flying debris, increasing the risk of eye injuries such as burns, abrasions, or chemical exposure.

Psychological Trauma

Witnessing or experiencing a refinery fire can be highly traumatic, leading to psychological injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues.

How Can Refinery Fire Injuries be Avoided?

Preventing refinery fire injuries requires a comprehensive approach focused on safety protocols, training, maintenance, and emergency preparedness. Here are several measures that refinery owners and operators can do to help avoid refinery fire injuries:

Strict Adherence to Safety Regulations

Ensure compliance with all relevant safety regulations and standards established by regulatory agencies such as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association).

Regular Maintenance and Inspections

Implement a proactive maintenance program to identify and address potential hazards before they escalate. Regular inspections of equipment, machinery, pipelines, and infrastructure can help prevent failures that could lead to fires.

Safety Training

Provide comprehensive safety training for all personnel working in the refinery, including proper handling of hazardous materials, fire prevention techniques, emergency response procedures, and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Fire Detection and Suppression Systems

Install and maintain fire detection systems (e.g., smoke detectors, heat sensors) throughout the refinery to detect fires early. Implement effective fire suppression systems (e.g., sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, foam systems) to quickly contain and extinguish fires.

Emergency Response Plan

Develop and regularly review an emergency response plan that outlines procedures for evacuating personnel, notifying emergency services, containing fires, and mitigating environmental damage. Conduct drills and exercises to ensure that all employees are familiar with their roles and responsibilities during emergencies.

Hot Work Permitting

Implement strict procedures for authorizing and supervising hot work activities such as welding, cutting, and grinding, which can pose a fire hazard. Require permits and conduct risk assessments before performing hot work, and enforce precautions such as fire watches and the use of fire-resistant barriers.

Chemical Management

Properly store, handle, and dispose of hazardous chemicals in accordance with safety regulations and best practices. Implement measures to prevent leaks, spills, and releases of flammable or toxic substances.

Control of Ignition Sources

Minimize the presence of ignition sources such as open flames, sparks, static electricity, and electrical equipment in areas where flammable materials are present. Implement measures to mitigate the risk of static discharge and ensure proper grounding and bonding of equipment.

Employee Involvement and Reporting

Encourage employees to actively participate in safety programs, report potential hazards or unsafe conditions, and contribute suggestions for improving safety practices in the refinery.

Continuous Improvement

Regularly review and evaluate safety performance, incident reports, and near-miss incidents to identify areas for improvement and implement corrective actions to prevent future incidents.

By implementing these measures and fostering a strong safety culture within the refinery, the risk of injuries resulting from refinery fires can be significantly reduced.

When Can You Sue for Injuries in a Refinery Fire?

You can potentially sue for injuries sustained in a refinery fire under various circumstances, depending on factors such as negligence, liability, and the specific laws governing the situation. Here are some common scenarios where you may have grounds for a lawsuit:


If it can be proven that the refinery or another party involved in refinery operations acted negligently and that negligence contributed to the fire or failed to prevent it, you may have a basis for a lawsuit. Negligence could include factors such as inadequate maintenance, failure to follow safety regulations, insufficient training of personnel, or ignoring known hazards.

Product Liability

If the refinery fire was caused by a defective product such as faulty equipment, machinery, or safety gear, you may have grounds for a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer, distributor, or seller of the defective product.

Premises Liability

If the refinery fire resulted from hazardous conditions on the premises, such as poorly maintained infrastructure, lack of proper safety measures, or failure to warn about known risks, you may be able to pursue a premises liability claim against the owner or operator of the refinery.

Employer Liability

If you were injured while working at the refinery, you may be eligible to file a workers’ compensation claim to cover your medical expenses and lost wages. In some cases, you may also be able to sue your employer for damages beyond what workers’ compensation provides if it can be shown that your employer’s actions or omissions were particularly egregious and not covered by workers’ compensation laws.

Environmental Damage

If the refinery fire resulted in environmental damage such as pollution, contamination of water or soil, or harm to wildlife or ecosystems, you may have grounds for a lawsuit under environmental laws or regulations.

Contact a Skilled Personal Injury Attorney

If you or someone you love has been injured in a refinery fire,  it is essential to consult with a qualified attorney who specializes in personal injury or environmental law to evaluate your case and determine the best course of action. At Kherkher Garcia, our personal injury attorneys have been helping clients for more than 30 years. We have helped numerous clients recovery from refinery fires, explosions, and chemical injuries.

Our team can advise you on your legal rights, assess the strength of your claim, and guide you through the process of pursuing compensation for your injuries and other damages resulting from a refinery fire or explosion. To get started, all you need to do is call us at 713-333-1030, or complete our online contact form to start your free consultation.

Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan

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Steve Kherkher

Steve Kherkher

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Steve Kherkher. Steve has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 30 years. He has won $300 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been catastrophically injured.

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