SEATTLE - Three days after one of the worst refinery accidents in Washington history, there are still far more questions than answers. But on Monday the U.S. Chemical Safety Board announced its preliminary findings.
"There was a very sudden release of a hydrocarbon that released quickly and ignited quickly," said Robert Hall, lead investigator.
Killed were Matthew C. Bowen, 31, of Arlington; Darrin J. Hoines, 43, of Ferndale; Daniel J. Aldridge, 50, of Anacortes; Kathryn Powell, 29, of Burlington; and Donna Van Dreumel, 36, of Oak Harbor.
The CSB says the five workers who died were so close to the fireball they were likely engulfed less than a second after the gas was released.
"Really so close they didn't stand a chance," said Hall.
The CSB is just one of six local, state and federal investigations happening at the Tesoro refinery.
On Friday morning seven workers were performing routine cleaning of an area that produces highly purified and highly flammable fuel. While restarting the unit's naptha hydrotreater, a vapor somehow ignited, causing the deadly fireball.
Five were killed but two others who were critically burned are said to be improving.
Many in the community of Anacortes lower flags to half staff in honor of the fallen workers.
Family and friends got their first glimpse at the damage through the front gate of the refinery.
"They're grieving big time right now ... along with all of us," said Joe Solomon, local chapter president of the United Steelworkers Union that represents refinery employees.
He says it's too soon to call it human error or an oversight by Tesoro.
"We're monitoring things pretty close on the union side to make sure families are getting what they need in this time of need," said Solomon.
Depending on their findings, federal investigators may recommend safety changes to the Tesoro refinery to make sure an incident like this never happens again.
"These dangers can be controlled, and that's what we're looking at," said Hall.
The Environmental Protection Agency is also investigating but so far has found no hazard to the surrounding environment.
Tesoro says it could take more than a year until we know what exactly happened.
Grief counseling, sympathy cards, memorial fund
Cards or letters of sympathy can be addressed to the Anacortes Refinery, P.O. Box 700, Anacortes, Washington, 98221.
Tesoro officials say they are providing grief counseling and support to all affected employees and their families, regardless of their location, and are providing counseling through the Employee Assistance Program 24 hours a day, seven days week at (888) 456-1324.
Also, a memorial fund will be established for those affected by accident.