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Huge fire continues to rage at Chevron oil refinery in Richmond

August 6, 2012 |  9:58 pm

Fire burns at Richmond oil refinery
Fire crews in Richmond on Monday night were trying to knock down a massive oil refinery blaze raging out of control, which sent a toxic plume of black smoke thousands of feet into the air and prompted officials to warn people to stay inside their homes in several Bay Area communities.

The fire at the Chevron refinery prompted shelter-in-place advisories in Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo, as well as a health advisory in nearby El Cerrito, officials said. Sirens in the Contra Costa County communities were wailing and would continue to sound until the advisories were lifted.

In neighboring Alameda County, authorities in Oakland issued a community advisory for residents in the north part of the Oakland Hills. Bay Area Rapid Transit said train service was stopped at its Richmond station because of the fire. 

Nigel Hearne, refinery manager at the Chevron facility, told reporters that crews were trying to extinguish the blaze by using nitrogen steam to displace fuel in a processing unit where the fire started about 6:15 p.m. No injuries were reported and no cause had been determined, he said.

Earlier, the huge plume could be seen for miles as the fire raged near the shoreline northeast of San Francisco. The large refinery is near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

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.

"Smoke can cause eye, throat and respiratory irritation or aggravate breathing problems such as asthma," health officials said in a statement Monday night.

Shortly after the blaze broke out, Oakland resident Lena Brooks told The Times she was driving to pick up friends in El Cerrito so they would not be exposed to the smoke. "Lots of crazy black smoke," she said. "We're evacuating."


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Photo: Fire rages at Chevron oil refinery in Richmond. Credit: Eric Risberg / Associated Press