Chevron officials want East Bay residents to stay indoors

Chevron refinery fire at Richmond, as taken by Mimi Vitetta from a tower in Richmond

[See updates below]

Chevron officials are recommending that anyone who lives from Richmond south to north Oakland  to “shelter in place” to avoid breathing toxic fumes from the fire that broke out at the refinery around 6: 40 pm.

Even though Berkeley police had not received notice by 9:30 pm to warn Berkeley residents to shut their windows and stay indoors, a Chevron spokesman said they should.

“The shelter in place goes to north Oakland so it does extend into Berkeley,” said John McGowan, a Chevron spokesman.

(Note: There is no official “shelter in place for Berkeley; see explanation below.)

People in the affected area should shut their doors and windows, turn off their fans, close fireplace dampers, and cover cracks around windows and doors with tape or damp towels.

The fire broke out in a process unit at the Chevron refinery in Richmond. Diesel fuel came into contact with some metal, which ignited it, according to news reports. Dozens of firefighters are on the scene, according to various news reports. Many people have gone to emergency rooms to report they are having  difficulty breathing. The North Berkeley BART station was closed briefly, but is now open.

As many as 160,000 have been told to shelter in place, according to KRON News.

Watch a livestream of the fire and related news coverage at UStream.
Chevron press release on fire 

10:15 pm: According to KRON News, the official “shelter in place” is only in effect for Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo. The Contra Costa Health Services Department has issued a health advisory for El Cerrito, according to KRON. However, residents all around the East Bay are apparently feeling effects of toxic fumes, such as heavy lungs, difficult breathing, etc.

10:33 pm: Heather Kulp from Chevron just told KRON that the fire at the refinery is fully contained, but is not fully doused yet. Chevron will hold a community meeting to talk to neighbors at 6:30 pm on Tuesday.

11:09 pm: The city of Berkeley just issued this press release:


Berkeley, California (Monday, August 06, 2012) – There is a fire at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond.  There is a shelter-in-place order for Richmond, North Richmond, and San Pablo.

There is currently no shelter-in-place order for Berkeley.  Berkeley’s Public Health and Toxic’s Divisions recommend that people who smell smoke, even if not in a shelter-in-place area, should stay inside with windows and doors closed, and air conditioners turned off.  This is especially important for people with respiratory conditions.  Concerned residents may want to follow the same precautions overnight tonight, even without smelling smoke.

All residents are advised to avoid the shelter-in-place areas until the shelter-in-place advisory is lifted.  Smoke can cause eye, throat, and respiratory irritation and can aggravate breathing problems such as asthma.  Anyone experiencing acute respiratory symptoms should seek medical attention promptly.

More information is available at:

Contra Costa County health department:

Bay Area Air Quality Management District:

Shelter-in-Place instructions:

11:30 pm: Contra Costa County health officials lift “shelter in place” rules.

Mimi Vitetta took this image from a tower in Richmond

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  • Iceland_1622

    From all of he video I have been watching across the hours via KGO at this link:  Chevron is not prepared to fight or suppress these fires quickly and appropriately.  Water hoses on such hot fuel fires is *fully* ineffective.  They ( Chevron ) are trying to push steam and nitrogen through the lead pipe into that unit # 4, however that may take a long time as per the fuel load.  Try dropping sand and lots of it + thick foam to get a grip on it real quickly.  Additionally I understand that these is asbestos in this smoke plume from the structure.  Not good.  This is going to be costly again…..for us right?  Then the gas prices are going to go  waaaaaaaaaaaaay up all over again.  Let’s hope I am wrong, however we need to get “off” of this stuff and over to hydrogen and others fuels.  On a good day that section of I-80 is intolerable at 1 am. as per the fumes of all stripe.  

  • Guest

    Not reassuring that Chevron is telling Berkeley folks to stay inside. The more I look at the photos the more I am like “Duh!” of course, there is no way that giant cloud stopped at El Cerrito. 

  • anon

    People Care.  -Enough to advise only the Berkeleyside, hours later, that Berkeley should shelter in place!  When I heard the first breaking news report on KCBS is was immediately followed by a radio commercial/propaganda for Chevron! Ironic.

  • My friend who used to work there gave me permission to share his observations: 

    As someone who used to work at the Chevron Refinery, and who drove past it around 6:40pm today and pulled over to watch, I am very happy and not too surprised that no one was seriously injured. From what I’ve read so far, a pump on the #4 Crude unit distillation tower had some kind of leak. That column distills gasoline and jet fuel and that still is at a high temperature inside the column. Somehow the escaping gasoline caught fire.I know that sounds crazy but in a refinery, everything that is electrical is designed to be either completely sealed so that an explosion within the machine cannot escape the enclosure of the machine, or the electronics are designed so that they don’t have the voltage to cause a spark, nor do they have the storage capacity to build up to a spark. It was possible the leak might never have caught fire but, gasoline is very flammable and obviously it did combust.When the official spokesperson said there was no explosion, my guess is she was indicating that the cause of the fire was not due to an explosion. Yes, when a massive quantity of gasoline ignites, you’re going to get a massive airburst that is going to be heard a long ways away. Yes there was an explosive airburst but I think she was indicting that the cause of the fire itself was not due to an explosion. (i.e., no bombs) Thats how I reconcile the technical explanation she gave with the experience of the locals.There were two flames, one was the #4 Crude unit, the other was a flare. The flare was doing what it was designed to do. A refinery is a collection of processing plants that are interconnected. It takes time to safely shut down a plant, you cannot just turn it off. A sudden turn off can cause an explosion all by itself or cause materials to solidify in pipes and basically plug the refinery so that it can never be restarted. So if the plant feeding into the #4 Crude unit needed to be shut down, all of the products it was producing needed to go somewhere and the only place to put it is out through a flare. Burning it is the safest way to deal with it. So the flare, flame #2 was doing what it was designed to do.Normal process when a unit is on fire is to let it burn and to cut off the fuel source. Wait for it to burn out. The water nozzles scattered all over the refinery are designed to protect the equipment and keep metals cool enough to survive the fire while the fuel that is escaping gets burned. The reason you want the flames to continue is that most petroleum contains hydrogen sulfide (rotten eggs smell) and when the concentration is too high, you die. But if you burn the oil, the hydrogen sulfide gets burned safely and although the smoke is bad, it is safer than not burning it.Hydrogen sulfide is nasty stuff. If you can smell it you are within safe concentrations. When you cannot smell it, either the concentration is too low to smell, or so high your nose no longer registers it and you’ll soon be dead. When someone is down in the refinery, training is for you to head the opposite direction, notify operations, find an air pack and then go and render aid. A pile of bodies of people who rushed in to aid others who are down does no one any good.The training for this kind of emergency is drilled into everyone. I was a control engineer. I programmed computers in the control room. But since I traversed the refinery to get to that control room, I had all the trainings too. CPR, fire suppression, Scott Air Packs, hard hat, goggles, ear protection, the works. The only difference between me and a plant operator that would be out in the plant monitoring things was they wore Nomex suits that were fire resistant. I wore a tie.I know people assign evil intentions to the refinery and the refinery workers but my experience was exactly the opposite. The plant operators were safety first and very intent on following all the regulations because a refinery is an extremely dangerous place. All you had to do was look around and imagine all the things that could happen to realize how important it is to do exactly what is expected.Anyway, I’m very glad no one was seriously injured.Kee Nethery

  • I was out on the water around 6:30 when that all went down.  It looked like the gates of hell…huge open fire flames visible from long away–reminds one of Kuwait.  as “Iceland” says, i’m all ready for other forms of fuel (hydrogen, whatever).  what scary stuff.  glad no one was hurt.

  • GC

    Is there any way for residents to get alerts via text of emergencies such as this one?  I got them in SF via but have not been able to find an equivalent one.  (I’m not affliiated with Cal, which does have one).

  • GC

    whoops, that’s! 

  • Eric

    I can’t smell the refinery fire smoke here in North Berkeley at all.  I can, however, smell my neighbors smoking.  Does that mean I should shelter-in-place every time they decide to light up and blow cancer my way?

  • Iceland_1622

    Eric, I have the same problem next door to me as well and it’s infuriating.  Try reading this for some suggestions as this group in based here and I have sent them financial support for years :  Be tactful and thoughtful, knowing all too well, that these are deeply addicted people and hyper-defended, so expect it to possibly go ugly very quickly.  The City may actually be able to help oddly ( mediation possibly ). My eyes burn enough from the automotive and diesel exhaust and particulate here, however this is at a very different level.  The smoke contains a free radical that binds to clothing and lungs even when cold in a micro-second and thus the stench when even lightly exposed. Oddly so few are switching to the new e-cigarettes that are supposed to be the *best* new tool in quitting long term.  If your female, this is one things you must not have in your life as it will age you by thirty years plus by age 35 and then it just gets worse and so do you.     

  • bgal4

     Imagine what will happen following a major earthquake.

  • bgal4

     thanks for posting this, it answered many of my questions.

  • serkes

    What a clear and calm explanation – thanks for posting your friend’s observations.

    Kee and I worked a few doors from each other in the Chevron Research monitoring and control department.  I don’t know who his friend is, but do know that Kee would post well informed comments.

    Ira Serkes

  • Number11

    So I took a nap/was asleep during all this- with my window open mind you. And I when I woke up, my sinuses were super dry and my eyes were burning. I am 5 weeks pregnant and I live in Berkeley. I really wish they would have activated the air raid sirens or something. Who cares if there is no shelter in place for Berkeley, all east bay residents should be properly notified. 

  • berkeleyhigh1999

    weatherbug triggered an alert on phone app

  • Bill N

    I’m curious if there would have been any or much particulate matter in an accident like this?  I had two damp t-shirts hanging out over night and they were still quite white this morning.  

  • Biker 94703

    Unless you were in the far far north east reaches of the hills, the plume was blowing nowhere near you.  From GoldenGate Fields I could see the plume blown south-east but it seemed to be well north of hillside park.

  • Biker 94703

    Heavy stuff drops out of a column fairly quickly and it wasn’t coming due south anyhow.  There was a sailboat guy on KGO last night who reported his sails spotted with soot, but he was right at the Richmond Marina.

  • Guest


  • Eastbayopine

    was in the general area (5 miles away) at 6:40, came home to Southeast Berkeley….felt lousy the rest of the night…burning eyes, not a good situation, to say the least

  • Kevin

    i live in kensington.  i could hear sirens in the distance all evening.  i smelled nothing unusual though i did experience very dry eyes and had a headache.  i don’t know if my symptoms were caused by this fire but i did realize last night that i have no confidence whatever in the systems that are supposedly in place to protect me and my east bay neighbors. perhaps i’m ignorant of the facts —  but i MAY be spot on and that’s very scary.   i tuned in to local tv coverage but hours passed without a statement by anyone representing contra costa county or chevron.  there were no sirens in my neighborhood.  i’m within a few blocks of the official border with el cerrito.  i don’t want to be the victim of an “oops”.