Chevron refinery fire sends smoke over SF Bay Area

Associated Press
Smoke pours from a fire at the Chevron Richmond Refinery, seen at left behind Alcatraz Island as a catamaran sails by in San Francisco, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. Officials have told residents of two Northern California cities to shelter-in-place as the fire in Richmond releases plumes of black smoke. The fire, first reported at 6:40 p.m. Monday, is burning in a process unit at the refinery, officials said. It is sending smoke over the cities of Richmond and San Pablo. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Officials fearing toxic smoke told residents in the San Francisco Bay Area to stay indoors Monday evening as a fire at a Chevron refinery released black plumes over the Richmond plant.

The fire broke out at 6:15 p.m. Monday, sending large flames with thick black smoke out of at least two refinery stacks and over Richmond and San Pablo, about 10 miles northeast of San Francisco.

The fire started in a process unit at the refinery, officials said. One employee suffered a minor injury and was receiving first aid treatment, a Chevron Corp. statement said.

Residents of Richmond, San Pablo and the unincorporated community of North Richmond were being advised by officials with Contra Costa County Health Services to "shelter in place," meaning they should not only stay inside, but should also turn off heaters, air conditioners and fans, and to cover cracks around doors with tape or damp towels.

"Any kind of smoke can be toxic," said Randy Sawyer, the chief environmental and hazardous materials officer for the agency.

"In this smoke there can also be all kind of byproducts that can be toxic," he said.

Flames appeared to have died down late Monday, but smoke continued to pour out of facility. It was not known when the fire would be under control.

The agency had four teams of inspectors in the field taking readings of the air quality, Sawyer said.

To the south, Oakland police issued a community advisory suggesting that residents of the North Oakland Hills area close all windows and doors and turn off air conditioners.

A statement released by Chevron's corporate media relations manager Lloyd Avran late Monday said the cause of the fire had not been determined.

The Chevron Richmond Refinery is among the country's largest and most important refineries, processing up to 240,000 barrels of crude oil a day, according to the company's website.

The facility makes high-quality products that include gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel and lubricants, as well as chemicals used to manufacture many other useful products. It is the largest producer of base oils on the West Coast.

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