Heavy black smoke caught the attention of many morning commuters along Highway 66 around 7 a.m. Monday morning as they passed by the Port of Catoosa.

Tulsa Fire Department first responders from Station 31 at 3000 N. Mingo Road, about four and half miles away, responded to an early morning explosion at the SemMaterials asphalt storage and transportation facility.

With the assistance of Catoosa Engine 1 crew members, Tulsa firefighters brought the ensuing fire under control within 20 minutes using fire retardant foam, according to Capt. Larry Bowles with the TFD. Bowles said the fire started inside a 500-barrel asphalt tank.

“There was some kind of malfunction that sparked a fire inside the tank and burned long enough to blow the end of the tank, spilling out into the levy area,” said Bowles. “It created a lot of heavy black smoke.”

Bowles said the nearly 25,000-gallon tank had been pumped the night before leaving only a small amount in it. “That was a good thing,” Bowles said.

Bowles said an unidentified worker was up on a filling tower about 50 feet away. He managed to get down and away from the area without injury.

SemMaterials operates 70 terminals across the United States and Mexico and is one of the largest asphalt providers in both countries.

Susan Dornblaser, public relations spokesperson with SemMaterials, said an internal investigation has been launched to try to find out the cause for the fire.

The U.S. Coast Guard, who works at the Port, is involved in the investigation.

“What we do appreciate though are the first responders from both Catoosa and Tulsa. They arrived so quickly and did an excellent job in putting out that fire. And, we are extremely grateful no one was injured,” Dornblaser said.

Pat Wisdom, facilities manager for SemMaterials at the Port, said, “Everything is looking good [Tuesday afternoon]. Clean up has begun and we are still assessing the damage.”

The Catoosa Port terminal employs six.

The asphalt terminal has been at the Port for several years. It has been under the management of SemMaterials for the last 15 months.

According to the SemMaterials.com Web site, asphalt is processed from heavy crude oil — low-grade crude oils which are higher in metals and sulfur content and must be heated to become fluid.

“The refining process results in asphalt cement of various grades.

“In North America, it is primarily used for paving road surfaces. To a lesser extent, it also is used in roofing products, for coating materials and for other specialty applications.”

The Web site states that more than 100 million tons of asphalt are used annually worldwide. Approximately 90 percent of asphalt consumed in the United States is used for road paving and approximately 10 percent is used for roofing products.

SemMaterials also markets residual oils.