The Lovington Daily Leader carried this headline in its August 27, 1959 issue, “Intense Blaze Burns Heater at Phillips Buckeye Refinery.” We remember being awakened early that morning and told we needed to evacuate the area because the gasoline plant across the road was on fire.
Some event had ignited a fire at the Lee Plant that morning. We were living in the house nearest the road and there were six more houses to the north of us. Closer to the plant than our houses were several dozen houses of the plant employees who we assumed were getting the same emergency request.
Buckeye is eighteen miles from Lovington and further than that from Hobbs, but both fire departments were called out to fight the blaze. Units from Lovington arrived a few minutes followed by elements from Hobbs just a few minutes later. Our parents quickly loaded up some clothing into our cars and drove down a half mile to the Buckeye intersection where the gas station, store and little post office were located. We all watched the fire and smoke until the blaze was safely put out and we were allowed to return to our houses.
We later learned that a piece of equipment called a pre-heater had caught fire at about 5:30 a.m. and went out about sunrise. The newspaper account said the blaze lit up the sky and could be seen over the horizon all the way to Lovington. The fire departments were able to contain the blaze within about thirty minutes after they arrived. The firefighters braved the extreme heat and danger to spray foam on the flames and extinguish the blaze. Phillips praised the firefighters for their quick work and said if it had not been for their efforts, it could have led to a much more serious situation.
There were no known injuries and damage to the plant was confined to the pre-heater and surrounding equipment. There may have been more vehicles that were damaged, but we remember at least one passenger car having been melted down to a shell and hauled off on a flat bed truck. The photo below is from the August 27, 1959 issue of the Lovington Daily Leader.