Chevron fire is out; investigation begins

The Chevron refinery fire on Monday Aug. 6, 2012. Photo: Mimi Vitetta

More than 80 firefighters spent five hours battling a blaze that erupted at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, finally extinguishing it around 11:20 pm on Monday. While the main fire is out, Chevron is conducting a small controlled burn to allow hydrocarbons to escape, Chevron spokesman Brent Tippen said at 6 am.

The Contra Costa County Health Services Department lifted its “shelter in place” order for residents in Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo around 11:31 pm on Monday, and the refinery lifted its “shelter in place” instructions about 20 minutes later, said Tippen.

Even though people only immediately around the refinery were formally told to stay inside, shut their doors and windows, and turn off air conditioners, people throughout the East Bay were affected by the fumes and smoke from the fire. The Oakland police issued an advisory at 8:07 pm telling residents of the North Hills about “a large plume of smoke” coming their way.

The plume from the Chevron fire. Photo: D.H. Parks

When Berkeleyside contacted Chevron officials around 9:30 pm Monday, a spokesman said since the warning to stay inside was extended to Oakland, it included Berkeley. A formal “shelter in place” for Berkeley was never issued, however.

The City of Berkeley issued a press release at 11:07 pm recommending that people who smelled smoke stay indoors:

“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.”

The Chevron spokesman would not speak to what kind of toxins or particulates might have been released into the air by the fire, nor where they might have spread.

Chevron has not yet established a cause for the fire, according to Tippen. The company will be holding a community meeting Tuesday at 6:00 pm at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. People with questions or concerns can call the community number at 510-242-2000.

The fire apparently is already affecting gas prices. CNBC reported this morning that the gasoline spot market in California was up 2%.

Smoke from the refinery fire on Aug. 6. Photo: Michael Fox

Chevron officials want East Bay residents – including Berkeleyans – to stay indoors [08.06.12]

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  • Redrocksrover

    An article in the LA Times last night quoted Trisha Asuncion, a hazardous materials specialist with the Contra Costa County Health Department, saying that the cloud was laden with hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide. One is an acute neurotoxin and the other is a precursor to acid rain.

  • It’s awful, no doubt.  But this isn’t necessarily a roving cloud of death–concentrations matter.  Hydrogen sulfide is also what makes farts smelly and sulfur dioxide is used in winemaking to mitigate oxidation and spoilage.  I’d really like the levels of those chemicals measured.

  • batard

    And meanwhile Comcast internet had an outage in our neighborhood from about 8pm until 7am this morning.

    Srsly bad timing.

  • Ormond Otvos

    Perhaps, if the Excursions and Alarums Ecologists had permitted Chevron to make the improvements to their processors, this might not have happened.

    I live less than half a mile from the burn. Today, at noon, we visited Oakland Kaiser and the smell of hot tar roofing was so strong in our friend’s sixth floor room that we had to close the door to the balcony hallway! I guess it’s a matter of numbers. We never actually smelled anything at MacDonald Avenue and Garrard Blvd.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Perhaps if the ecologists hadn’t objected, the oil companies would still be adding lead to gasoline.

  • Ormond Otvos

    Non-sequitur, but I guess it’s the best you’ve got… Lead wasn’t blocked by ecologists, but by doctors. 

    Know what dilbit is? Did you know Chevron has a process they’ve invented to eliminate coke?
    They were blocked from installing the machinery in the latest windmill tilting exercise.

  • Akkizza

    What you say about lead isn’t true. In the early 70s the EPA declared that leaded gasoline was a health hazard, and then instituted the phase-down of lead in gas (which wasn’t assured…there were lawsuits and appeals, etc.) There was a lot of environmental passion in Congress at the time, and Ralph Nader was outspoken about it. So no, it wasn’t simply doctors. It was research by doctors informing EPA admins, who acted in concert with environmentalists and public campaigns to get it over the finish line. These things don’t happen in a vacuum. Doctors don’t block things, but they play an important role, along with government regulators, ecologists, and public health and safety advocates.

    My dad and grand-dad worked for lead companies in the Ozarks during the 60s and 70s, and “goddamn environmentalists” was a phrase I heard often :-)