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Hastings man dead after fire at refinery in St. Paul Park

A Hastings man was found dead Sunday afternoon after an early morning explosion and fire Saturday at Marathon Petroleum Co. in St. Paul Park.

Nick Gunter, 29, Hastings, was found at 1:40 p.m. in a No. 6 fuel oil holding tank where he had been seen working shortly before the explosion, Marathon spokesperson Robert Calmus said. No one else was injured.

The body was recovered after a hole was cut in the side of the tank to allow for safe entry and operation for workers, St. Paul Park Police Chief Mike Monahan said.

Gunter's family chose not to comment when reached Monday.

Hastings resident Steve Schlicht worked with Gunter for two years at ConAgra in Hastings and lived across the street from him.

"He was good-hearted, and his family came before anything else," Schlicht said.

The fire that took Gunter's life broke out at 8:29 a.m. Saturday, according to St. Paul Park Fire Chief Kurk Lee. St. Paul Park firefighters, together with Marathon's emergency response team, set up two of the company's new foam totes with four trucks in 20 minutes and extinguished the fire within 10 minutes, he said.

Fire departments from Cottage Grove, Newport, Inver Grove Heights, Maplewood and Woodbury were called for backup.

"We called them mainly for aerial support," Lee said. "Space within the refinery is very tight and confined."

The cause of the explosion and fire is still under investigation by the State Fire Marshal and the Minnesota Office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Monahan said. He is classifying it as an industrial accident.

Gunter was a blending operator at the refinery. As part of his duties, the 29-year-old would have gone up onto the tank to do inspections, though it is still unknown if that is what Gunter was doing at the time of the explosion, Calmus said on Monday. Marathon is assisting authorities in the ongoing investigation.

"We're working very hard to establish a cause and to ensure this doesn't happen again," he added.

Counseling has been made available to Gunter's family and fellow employees, Calmus said.

"I speak for our whole company when I say our thoughts and prayers are with (Gunter's) family and colleagues here," Calmus said. "It's a very hard time."

The last fatality at the St. Paul Park refinery occurred in 1978, before Marathon owned the facility.