Hazmat: Marathon oil fire in Detroit released toxic chemicals as police in gas masks evacuated residents

Marathon fire

An explosion at the Marathon Petroleum refinery in Detroit sent rolling plumes of black smoke and toxic chemicals into the air Saturday evening, prompting police in gas masks to close off streets and evacuate residents and businesses.

Fearing toxic chemicals had been released into nearby neighborhoods, emergency officials declared a Hazmat level 3 situation due to the possible leak of benzene and hydrogen sulfide after the fire broke out at 6 p.m.

Investigators also are trying to determine whether either of those chemicals sparked the blaze, which could be seen from downtown Detroit.

Marathon FireMelvindale police wearing black gas masks scrambled to evacuate residents and businesses and prevent motorists from driving into the exposed areas.

“Go, go, go,” an officer at a traffic light told motorists at a hectic intersection. “Come one. Get out of here.”

Heavy, pungent smoke rolled across nearby neighborhoods, causing fears of exposure.

Firefighters controlled the blaze by 9 p.m. It’s unclear whether evacuations are still in effect.

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Steve Neavling, who lives on the city’s east side, is an investigative journalist, a freelance reporter for Reuters and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Neavling explores corruption, Detroit’s unsung heroes and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.