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  Chevron Refinery Fire
August 7, 2012

Well, in case you missed it, there was a fire at Chevron yesterday evening, and media coverage is copied below.

It’s a beautiful day, and everything looks normal at the Chevron Refinery from my vantage point, which happens to be among the best. I am glad to no one was seriously injured, either at the refinery or in the community. Smoke from the fire rose rapidly to over 1,000 feet and then trailed off towards the east. Those particles had to land somewhere, but it didn’t look to me like it was in Richmond. Certainly from where I watched the fire high in Point Richmond, there was no smoke or odors at all. Except for the excitement, it was just another a summer evening and nicely warmer than most.

Which brings up my most recurrent concern about these incidents, which appear to be a fact of life every three to five years. The Community Warning System once again failed to function adequately.

I was sitting on the patio behind (on the south side of) my house where I could not see Chevron when I got a phone call from my daughter-in-law at exactly 6:35 PM asking me if I knew what was going on. I had heard some explosions a few minutes previously, but they didn’t seem very loud. She said there was a big smoke plume above Chevron and asked me if I knew what was going on. I moved over to where I could see clearly, and sure enough the fire was well underway and the smoke already 1,000 feet or more high and moving eastward.

At that time, maybe between 6:35 and 6:40, the sirens went off for the first time. By accounts, the fire was well underway 15 or 20 minutes prior.

If you are familiar with the Community Warning System, you know a siren means: “Shelter yourself, your family and your pets (if possible) inside away from the outside air; Shut and lock doors and windows.  Turn off vents, air conditioners and fans” (http://www.co.contra-costa.ca.us/index.aspx?nid=161).

If you turned on the television, you heard that the alert extended to Rodeo, San Pablo North Richmond and Richmond. That’s maybe 150,000 people who had to put their lives on hold for the next three hours. Although the wind was blowing the opposite direction, they toll takers at the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge fled. And BART stations in West County were shut down, stranding thousands with no way to get home.

How much sense does this make when all of these areas were largely unaffected by a plume of smoke 1,000 or more feet above moving off to the east?

I had registered my cell phone with the Community Warning System, so beginning at 6:46 (probably 30 minutes after the fire started) I got my first message from the County. I never got a message on my home phone until 9:30 PM. I kept getting messages on both my cell and my home phone every hour after that, waking me up. I finally got an “all clear” message at 12:50 AM this morning.

Following is a sample of emails I received that testify to the slow warning, misinformation, lack of information and general confusion caused by a dysfunctional warning system:

7:10 PM: There was a county emergency alert that appeared on my TV screen - with zero details.

  • 7:12 PM On KCBS a refinery spokeswoman said no injuries, all accounted for.  "No comment" as to almost every other question.
  • 7:17 PM I got an automated message on my mobile phone from the county. No details, just how to shelter in place. Might have received it because I signed up for emergency alerts.
  • 7:30 PM: Thanks for this. We're in Marina Bay and so far it's not bad here, but I have to tell you that we received no phone call for a shelter in place, and no sirens have gone off here.
  • 7:35 PM: I got a phone alert too. It is strange to see caller ID list the number as all "0". It is a good service to have though. Even if I were away from home, I would get the warning and at least know there was a problem.
  • 7:47 PM: According to KCBS there are a couple hundred people spectating from the Richmond Parkway.
  • 7:51 PM: Just heard channel 5 saying there is an evacuation for Richmond??
  • 7:53 PM: I have KCBS 740AM on and haven't heard anything but shelter in place.
  • 7:55 PM:  Tom, did you get a phone call about this? We did not, still haven't, and we've been home since it happened.
  • 8:03 PM: Channel 5 anchor just stated they misspoke on evacuation order. 
  • 8:04 PM: The ticker on KCBS is saying that "residents are advised to evacuate if possible." 
  • 8:07 PM: Agreed. Heard no sirens and none of the phones I have registered with the county received any notice. BUT the N&E listserv got Franklin and I inside in a jiffy!
  • 8:16 PM:  The greatest stress from the refinery fire was the extremely loud Coast Guard helicopters hovering overhead making it seem like a war zone. They contribute nothing to fire fighting, and No. 4 crude unit is far from the Bay making the potential for water pollution vanishing small.
  • 8:17 PM: Just got an automated call. It said "this is a message from Contra Costa Health Services" , then said "press 1 to replay this message" I pressed 1, then it said "goodbye" and hung up, no message at all. No worries, my sister e-mailed me from Auburn. Sac station KCRA had the CCC emergency instructions on their home page.
  • 8:28 PM: We finally got a phone call from Contra Costa Health Services at 8:23 PM saying “This is a message from Contra Costa Health Services”. Period! End of Message. Still a dysfunctional system. Really not important since virtually all know to shelter in place.
  • At 9:27 PM, we finally received a full message from Contra Costa Health Services re refinery fire — almost three hours after it started!

This is reminiscent of the confusion that reigned during the 2007 fire at Chevron. All those problems were supposed to have been fixed, but they persist. See below:

Jim Rogers Response to Chevron Fire, January 29, 2007

City Council Fails to Hold Chevron Responsible - Again, January 24, 2007Text of Resolution for City Council Meeting of January 23, 2007, Relating to Penalties for Activation of Community Warning System, January 19, 2007

Community Meeting on Chevron Fire, January 19, 2007

WCT Editorializes on Warning System Failure - Community Meeting Scheduled, January 18, 2007

Officials Acknowledge Community Warning System: System Failed to Function Properly, January 16, 2007

More Chevron Fire Information, January 15, 2007

All Clear at 8:46 AM, January 15, 2007

Broken Alert System Needs Major Repair, January 15, 2007

Communications Breakdown as Chevron Fire Causes Shelter in Place Warning, January 15, 2007

The following was received from Chevron:




Dear Members of the Community:

We want to apologize to the community for the fire and smoke that occurred this evening at our Richmond Refinery.

The fire began at approximately 6:30 p.m. in our 4 Crude Unit.  At this time, the fire is fully contained.

We are also working closely with local, state and federal government agencies, who are onsite, to determine the exact cause of the incident and to address any current issues and concerns.  We want to thank our emergency responders for their quick response as well as those who provided mutual aid.

We have comprehensive plans and procedures in place to respond to situations like this one we are facing today. We are responding to this incident as quickly as we can and are deploying highly trained personnel to assess and manage this situation.

We are currently taking the appropriate measures necessary to address and provide for the safety and security of our facilities, our employees and contractor personnel, and the surrounding community and its residents.

We understand Contra Costa County officials have issued a shelter in place warning for the surrounding area.  Any questions about this precautionary measure and when the warning will be lifted are best addressed to the County.  Residents with questions should contact Contra Costa Health Services at 925-335-3200.

Our priority right now is containing the fire and protecting the health and safety of our employees and members of the community.

We want to invite the community to come to a Town Hall Meeting to receive information and ask questions. The meeting will be held at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium on Tuesday, August 7 at 6:00 p.m. located at 403 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond, CA.

You may also follow us on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube


Statement from Nigel Hearne, Manager, Chevron Richmond Refinery

We want to apologize to the community for the fire and smoke this evening at our Richmond Refinery.

We are actively working to control the fire. The good news is that there are no significant injuries. Only one employee burned his wrist. He is being treated for that in our clinic.

We are working with government agencies and regulators, who are all on site, to determine the cause of the incident. We want to thank our brave emergency responders as well as those who provided mutual aid.

The fire began at 6:15 p.m. in our 4 Crude Unit. At this time we do not have details about the cause of the incident.

We have comprehensive plans and procedures in place to respond to situations like the one we are facing today.

We will take the appropriate measures necessary to provide for the safety and security of our facilities and the surrounding community.

We are responding to this incident as quickly as we can and are deploying highly trained personnel to assess and manage the situation.

We will not speculate on the cause of this incident. Our priority right now is containing the fire and protecting the health and safety of our employees and community.


If you are concerned about fallout from the fire, see below:

Global Community Monitor Media Advisory

Contact: Denny Larson, Global Community Monitor , 415-845-4705

Chevron fire: Contra Costa Group offers help to residents for testing toxic fall out 

(Contra Costa County, CA) A Contra Costa Group is offering help to residents who want to  test fall out from the Chevron refinery fire. The Global Community Monitor, located in El Cerrito, Ca,  is a non-profit that empowers people to test their environment for themselves.  The Global Community Monitor has helped 100 communities in 27 countries test for toxic hazards.

Anyone interested in having fallout and particles tested should contact Global Community Monitor at denny@gcmonitor.org or 510-233-1870.

From Richmond Confidential:

BREAKING: Fire at Chevron refinery in Richmond

The Chevron refinery fire as seen from taken from 580 heading west towards the Richmond Bridge at approx 6:45pm. Photo by Becca Friedman.
By: Richmond Confidential | August 6, 2012 – 7:36 pm
Reader Mary Davis shot this photo her living room window on Clarence Street.
Richmond Confidential is getting reports of a large fire burning at the Richmond Chevron refinery.
Early this evening, Richmond residents reported hearing sirens and seeing flames that were visible from miles. The rising plumes were dark black, nearly blotting out the sun as they drifted eastward. They were as dark and looked as dense as thunderclouds in certain spots.
“There’s been a fire at the number four crude unit at 6:15 PM,” confirmed Chevron spokesperson Melissa Ritchie at shortly after 8:00 pm.
She said the company has no details yet about the cause of the fire. There was ”One minor injury, a burn to a wrist, on one of the workers,” she said.
A press release issued by the company shortly before 8 pm read: “We are responding to this incident as quickly as we can and are deploying highly trained personnel to assess and manage the situation. We will not speculate on the cause of this incident. Our priority right now is containing the fire and protecting the health and safety of our employees and community.”
This photo was taken by reader Greg Murphy from East Scenic, Point Richmond at 7pm.
The Contra Costa County Health Services Department has issued a shelter in place warning for Richmond residents and says that a Hazmat team is currently at the scene testing the air. Sheltering in place means remaining inside, shutting windows and doors, making sure vents are closed, turning off ventilating and air conditioning, and bringing pets indoors. More information on how to shelter in place can be obtained here.
As of 9 pm, according to Randy Sawyer at Contra Costa Health Services, the shelter in place advisory is only for Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo, although some news stations are reporting otherwise. However, the Health Services Department advises that residents in nearby areas such El Cerrito and Martinez, as well as people with pre-existing conditions such as asthma and emphysema or those who are sensitive to chemicals should stay inside.
Sawyer says the advisory is a level 3 advisory, the highest level they issue. Under this level they can issue an evacuation, although that is not what they are doing at this time.
Shortly after 6:30 pm, BART announced a station closure at El Cerrito del Norte and at Richmond. BART service has stopped between Richmond and El Cerrito Plaza. You can keep updated here.
Reader Christopher Larsen shot this from the 600 block of 31st Street. He writes, "You can see how the sun was blotted out."
Councilmember Corky Booze has confirmed that there were no major injuries due to the explosion. He says he was riding with Lt. Hill of the Richmond Police Department at about 6:30 PM when they heard an explosion and saw large plumes of smoke coming from two of the stacks. ”There were pretty big heavy black smoke clouds when it first went off. They are getting it under control quickly.”
“I do want to credit the lieutenant and fire department. They jumped in to service immediately and issued the shelter in place warning,” he said.
Residents throughout the Bay Area got a good look at the smoke during their evening commutes.
“I could see the smoke and fire from my friend’s window,” said Charles Turner, an Oakland resident. “I was leaving Richmond, on my way over to the Cerrito Del Norte BART stop when the station got shut down. Hopefully the emergency teams will be able to contain the fire.”
“I didn’t hear the sirens until after I saw the huge smoke clouds in the sky,” said Richmond resident Joel Nickelson-Shanks. “The smoke is so thick, it cast a shadow over Richmond.”
Reader Theresa Greenwood took this photo on E. Richmond Ave. from her balcony.
“I heard a big bang around 6:00, it was too loud to be gunshots, so I thought a plane had crashed or something,” said Martin Dennis, a Richmond resident who lives in properties overlooking the refinery. “It’s a tragedy to our community, not to mention the violence that we have to deal with. I hope they make everything alright for our sake and take more precautions.”
Dennis said the explosion was followed by the wailing of fire warning sirens, a familiar pattern to most residents. ”I have been here for 45 years and every three to five years there is an incident at the refinery,” said Dennis, who worked as a cleaner at the refinery soon after graduating from school. “It’s a crime against our community. Every time something like this happens dangerous chemicals are released into the air we breathe.”
Real estate agent Toni Hanna was in Point Richmond at the time the fire began, ”taking a beautiful walk on the beachfront area,” she said. “About 6:30 I saw a plume of smoke and thought it was a house fire. I started driving towards it, but got to the other side of the hill and saw that it was the refinery burning up. Two smoke stacks on fire and huge black noxious cloud heading north.”
She says she is having some mild issues because of the smoke. “My eyes are bothering me, and I have a headache,” Hanna said.
She said that as a real estate agent she sees how much the refinery impacts home values in the area, especially in the poorest parts of town where people live closest to the refinery. “The closer you are to the refinery the more so property values are affected. But, I think what people are realizing tonight is that it doesn’t just affect Richmond. It affects all the communities down wind of the refinery as well,” said Hanna. ”I just hope that this is wake-up call. They should be converting that refinery to bio fuels. Chevron gets away with a lot in this community. I hope that this will be a turning point.”
Reader Phil King shot this photo from El Cerrito.
Reached by phone on Monday evening Councilmember Tom Butt, who lives in Point Richmond said, “I got a great view of everything going on there …. By the time I could see it fire was well underway, smoke thousand of feet in the air. Sirens went off around 6:30 PM.”
“I’ve lived here almost 40 years and this is the worst one I’ve seen,” he said of the refinery fire, adding, “Well the worst Chevron one. General Chemical in ’93 was worst one overall.”
Butt had some criticism for the phone warning system. “I’ve been watching these things for years. The community warning system has never worked. 100 percent failure rate,” Butt said. He said the problem with the system is that not everyone is notified on their home phone as they should be, and that the advisory is given over too great an area. “They basically warned everybody in West Contra Costa County to shelter people,” he said.
Reader Alex Baires shot this at Wild Cat Canyon above the McBryde entrance.
“One of the concerns I have about this system is it makes everything come to a stop in the whole part of the county. In reality is was moving over Richmond and in to the east,” he said of the dark plume of smoke.
He also said that Chevron’s response and communication has been better with this incident than in years past. Company representatives called him and all other councilmembers to apologize and provide information about the fire, he said.
“They did tell me they’re going to have within 24 hours a town hall meeting for updated/detailed info. I think they’re trying harder than they have in the past to communicate with the community,” Butt said.
At approximately 9:30 pm, the Contra Costa Health Department updated its web page to add that alert sirens would continue to sound because “a diesel-like combustible liquid is burning at the refinery.”
Chevron has announced that it will host a town hall meeting on Tuesday, August 7 at 6 pm at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium.
Richmond Confidential will continue to follow this story.
You can read our update on the Chevron press conference held late Monday evening here.
Reader Toni Hanna took this on Marine St. in Pt. Richmond just west of 580. "It seemed to take forever for the sirens to sound and for fire trucks to get there," she writes.
You can read our complete archive of Chevron-related past coverage here.
Richmond Confidential reporters Jennifer Baires, Spencer Whitney and Tawanda Kanhema contributed to this report.
Connect with Richmond Confidential on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter.


Massive fire at Chevron refinery in Richmond fully contained; shelter in place lifted

Investigation continues into Richmond refinery fireA controlled burn at the Chevron refinery in Richmond continued Tuesday morning, while the cause of the fire Monday night before remains under investigation, a Chevron spokeswoman said.
http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site568/2009/0105/20090105_014658_bluedot_4x7.gifMassive fire fully contained; shelter in place lifted
http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site568/2009/0105/20090105_014658_bluedot_4x7.gifNo. 4 crude unit at Richmond refinery to be shut down
http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site568/2009/0105/20090105_014658_bluedot_4x7.gifRefinery fire affecting air quality
http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site568/2009/0105/20090105_014658_bluedot_4x7.gifRefinery fire could affect gasoline prices
http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site568/2009/0105/20090105_014658_bluedot_4x7.gifChevron's statement on the refinery fire
http://extras.mnginteractive.com/live/media/site568/2009/0105/20090105_014658_bluedot_4x7.gifHow the story of the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond developed  
By Kristin J. Bender and Daniel M. Jimenez
Contra Costa Times
Posted:   08/06/2012 06:55:52 PM PDT
Updated:   08/06/2012 11:54:53 PM PDT


 Fire blazes at Chevron refinery in Richmond
1 of 9
Fire blazes at Chevron refinery in Richmond
Smoke and flame billow from a crude oil unit at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif., Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)
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RICHMOND -- Officials have fully contained a huge fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond that sent thick black smoke wafting across the Bay Area, raising health concerns and prompting shelter-in-place warnings for thousands of residents.
The fire broke out at 6:15 p.m. and flames and two large plumes of black smoke rose five or six miles into the sky, drifting across the Bay. Chevron spokesman Lloyd Avram said no explosions were reported on-site, but witnesses reported hearing at least four loud booms. Spokesman Brent Tippen confirmed at 10:40 p.m. that the fire had been fully contained.
The shelter-in-place order for the communities of Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo was lifted around 11:15 p.m.,
Smoke and flames pouring from stacks at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, Calif. on Monday, Aug. 6, 2012 were easily visible miles away in San Francisco. (Thomas Peele/Bay Area News Group)
according to Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Program Director Randy Sawyer. Sawyer said that small amounts of material were still burning on the site, but that smoke was not leaving the refinery property.
Residents can open their windows and doors to allow their homes to air out, Sawyer said.
Officials are still working to determine the cause of the fire, but said the blaze was in their "No. 4 Crude Unit," which processes diesel crude oil.
Chevron spokeswoman Heather Kulp said crews were investigating a leak in the unit before the fire. Crews realized the leak could not immediately be contained, so moved workers out of the area, and the fire erupted shortly thereafter, she said.
As the fire spread, the refinery activated some flairs -- a type of release system that allows pressure to escape, Kulp said.
All refinery employees are accounted for, Chevron said, and no major injuries were reported. One operator was treated at the scene for a burn on his wrist, Kulp said.
Kulp apologized to the community for the distressing incident. A community forum will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium to discuss the fire.
"I heard a big boom ... then the alarms started going
off," said resident Daniela Rodriguez, 23, who was at home nearby when the fire started. "I was getting kind of scared. I went into my backyard and could see a big, dark gray cloud. I saw it was coming from where the refinery is, so I told my mom to lock the windows."
Even hours after the fire, witnesses reported smells of burning plastic in the air, with residents as far as Oakland and Benicia reporting the foul odor. The county health department was monitoring air quality and said nothing harmful had been detected in the atmosphere so far.
Still, the Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center was treating about three dozen patients in its emergency room who were complaining of respiratory problems, according to a statement from the hospital.
The plume from the fire was an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 feet above ground level, officials said at a news conference late Monday.
"The plume is still high above and not touching down into the community," said Trisha Asunción, a hazardous materials specialist with the county.
Shelter in place warnings were issued via sirens and phone calls and BART stations in Richmond, El Cerrito Plaza and El Cerrito del Norte stations were closed, but have since reopened.
The shelter in place warnings were issued for Richmond, San Pablo, North Richmond, El Cerrito and North Oakland. Residents were told to stay inside, close their windows and doors and turn off air conditioning and heating units.
Residents were also warned to have duct tape ready should they need to further seal windows and doors. Pets should also be brought inside and all children in sporting activities should be brought inside.
"People who can clearly see the smoke should pay attention and keep out of the smoke and be alert and aware," said Bay Area Air district spokeswoman Lisa Fasano. "We do have air quality inspectors on scene and we will be taking air samples and will have the results back tomorrow," she said.
Smoke from the fire could be seen from the Bay Bridge and from Jack London Square in Oakland.
Some people were fearful while others took the fire in stride.
"We heard the sirens go off and I said,
'Thunderdome blew,'" said Emmett Zediker, 39, an electrician who lives in the North and East neighborhood in Richmond and has been through other refinery fires. "We call Chevron 'Thunderdome' because when it blows, it blows. So we cracked open a bottle of vintage wine and we are having an apocalypse party."
His three friends stayed inside, but Zediker said he was hot and went outside for air. "My friends said, 'Don't open the door, don't breathe,' but I'm like, 'Let's have some more wine.'"
The last time there was an explosion and fire at the refinery was in 2007. There are 1,200 employees at the refinery and all have received training for fires and disasters.
Staff writer Dana Hull contributed to this report.