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Flames still burning but crews contain Chevron oil refinery blaze

August 6, 2012 | 11:17 pm

Fire rages at Chevron oil refinery in RichmondFire crews contained a massive blaze that raged out of control at a Chevron oil refinery in the Bay Area city of Richmond, officials at the facility said late Monday.

Even though crews had contained the blaze, flames were still burning late Monday, according to Bay Area media organizations that were reporting from the large refinery northeast of San Francisco.

The blaze sent a dark plume of toxic smoke several thousand feet into the air and forced officials to issue shelter-in-place advisories for Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo, as well as a health advisory for nearby El Cerrito. The Oakland Police Department issued a community advisory for residents in the north part of the Oakland Hills.

The column of smoke, laden with hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, had risen about 4,000 feet into the air, said Trisha Asuncion, a hazardous-materials specialist with the Contra Costa County Health Department.

Refinery Manager Nigel Hearne told reporters that crews battled the blaze with nitrogen steam that displaced the fuel inside the processing unit where the fire erupted about 6:15 p.m. The flames were being stoked by a "diesel-like combustible fluid," the Contra Costa County Health Department said in a statement.

"Smoke can cause throat and eye irritation though generally not serious if the exposure is limited. However, exposure to smoke can cause people with pre-existing lung disease, such as asthma, to experience wheezing or have trouble breathing," the agency said.

The initial response and bulk of the firefighters on the ground were private firefighters from Chevron, Dow Chemical, Phillips and Shell, which all have crews stationed at the refinery, state officials told The Times.

Kelly Huston of the California Emergency Management Agency said the agency had dispatched a state fire chief and regional personnel to the site to monitor the emergency.

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--Robert J. Lopez in Los Angeles and Anthony York in Sacramento

Photo: Smoke billows Monday evening from the Richmond refinery. Credit: Associated Press Photo/The Contra Costa Times, D. Ross Cameron

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