Last updated: 2:18 AM Tuesday, August 8
The shelter in place advisory has been lifted in the cities of Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo and the fire at the Chevron refinery has been contained tonight, according to the Contra Costa Health Department and Chevron.
At 11:12 p.m. The Contra Costa Health Department announced that residents are not at risk and are able to open up their houses.
Residents do not need to remain indoors, Contra Costa Health Services Hazards Specialist Maria Duazo said.
A health advisory remains in place for anyone with smoke allergies in those cities that were advised to shelter in place, and the western part of Contra Costa County, Duazo said.
The fire at the Chevron refinery was contained at approximately 10:50 p.m., a Chevron spokesman said.
The fire caused BART to close the El Cerrito Plaza, El Cerrito Del Norte, and Richmond stations..
According to BART Communications Department Manager Alicia Trost, BART received an all clear notice from the El Cerrito Fire Department, and reopened the El Cerrito Plaza and El Cerrito Del Norte stations as of 9:50 PM.
The Richmond station was reopened at around 11:30, Trott said.
During the fire, many commuters were stranded, as no bus bridge was set up due to the shelter in place order.
During the fire, cash-paying motorists crossing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge were not being charged a toll, according to the California Highway Patrol.
A CHP officer said toll takers were sheltering in place at the toll plaza office because of the fire.
Caltrans spokesman Bob Haus said cash-paying motorists will be billed for the toll at a later date, but won’t be fined for passing through the plaza without stopping Monday night.
Commuters are expected to be able to travel as usual Tuesday morning.
The fire started at the refinery’s “4 Crude Unit” at 6:30 PM Monday, according to a statement released by Chevron .
Refinery general manager Nigel Hearne said at a news conference Monday night that one employee suffered a minor burn to his wrist and was treated on site.
All Chevron employees have been accounted for and there are no injuries, Chevron said in a statement.
Richmond Fire Chief Michael Banks said around 7:50 p.m. that the three-alarm fire was still burning.
“It’s still going pretty good,” he said.
He said the Richmond Fire Department assisted Chevron firefighters, and that a plume of smoke is still rising into the air.
“The cloud is fairly high up, so that’s a good thing,” he said around 7:45 p.m. “It’s definitely heading east toward the hills.”
Banks said there were reports of explosions around the time the fire started. He advised residents to stay put and stay tuned.
“Stay inside, watch it on the news, and that’s the best thing to do,” Banks said.
As of 7:55 PM, SFist was reporting that there is “no estimated time regarding full or partial fire extinguish.”
As of 8 PM, five inspectors from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District had arrived at the site and were working with first responders to provide guidance and take air quality samples, district spokeswoman Kristine Roselius said.
She said the district automatically responds to any incidents like Monday’s fire by sending inspectors to provide advice and support.
“They might provide information on the possible smoke content, where it’s moving,” Roselius said. “They might advise them on where the shelter-in-place should be, that kind of thing.”
An automated phone message sent out by Contra Costa Health Services Monday night stated that there has been an emergency at the refinery.
“Go inside. Close all windows and doors,” the message stated.
It advised residents to turn off heaters, air conditioners and fans, and to cover cracks around doors with tape or damp towels.
Frederick Hamilton, 51, waited out the fire at his home on Henry Clark Lane in North Richmond near the refinery. He had a headache and was coughing, and said the air was filled with a chemical odor Monday night.
“You can smell it,” he said. “I was out there in it.”
He was watching the news on TV and said he had closed all of the doors and windows in his home, and had plugged the cracks in the doors as instructed.
However, he said the air quality wasn’t getting any better, and said his wife had developed a “severe” headache.
Hamilton coughed as he answered questions over the phone.
“This stuff is crazy,” he said to someone in the background.
Joe Darling, who worked at the Chevron refinery for more than 27 years, was watching news coverage of the fire from his home on Cottage Avenue Monday evening.
He said he wasn’t aware of the fire until his friend called and told him to turn on the TV.
Darling said he had received the automated call from Contra Costa Health Services warning him to stay indoors.
He said the smoke was rising into the air and didn’t appear to be settling in his neighborhood, located across Interstate Highway 580 from the refinery.
A resident of San Rafael reported being able to smell the smoke from across the Bay.
Oakland police also warned residents that a community advisory has been issued for the North Oakland hills.
The fire created a large plume of smoke, which headed toward the hills, police said around 8 PM Monday.
“We have comprehensive plans and procedures in place to respond to situations like the one we are facing,” Chevron said in a statement released at around 8:30 PM Monday night. “We are working with all appropriate local authorities.”
Chevron declined to “speculate on the cause” of the incident.
“Our priority right now is containing the fire and protecting the health and safety of our employees and the community,” the statement read.
At the press conference, Hearne offered an apology to residents and said the priority is extinguishing the blaze.
“As you can see, we’ve made significant progress, and we’re still in the process of controlling the fire,” Hearne said.
He said Chevron is working with government agencies and regulators on site to determine the cause of the blaze.
A 5 a.m. meeting will take place at the Main gate of the Chevron refinery Tuesday morning at 841 Chevron Way, near to the freeway in Richmond, to update the public on the fire and answer any questions the public may have, according to a Chevron spokesman.
Bay City News contributed significantly to this report