Update: Refinery Controlled Burns Designed to Prevent Another Big Fire

By: Brian Shields - Tue, 07 Aug 2012 14:27:11 -0800

RICHMOND (KRON) -- Chevron's Fire Chief says a controlled burn now underway at the site of Monday's refinery fire is needed to prevent another catastrophe.

It now appears diesel was leaking at the Chevron Richmond refinery for two hours before something sparked a fire that sent plumes of smoke across the Bay Area.

Oil company investigators say the fire started at about 6:15 p.m. Monday, two hours after workers spotted diesel leaking from a seal at the No. 4 Crude Unit.  When the leak was first spotted, workers were evacuated from the area.

The fire was contained five hours later.  By late Tuesday morning controlled burns were still underway.  Officials say those are needed to keep more fuel from building up and causing a dangerous situation.

"If it catches on fire again, and it's a large accumulation, then you're going to have a bigger fire and it could effect other areas of the plant," Chevron Fire Chief Mark Ayres told a noon Tuesday news conference.  "We're taking the pressure that is still there, that little bit of residual pressure and we're letting it burn so that it can safely consume that product as opposed to creating a larger incident again."

Crews are also going through the plant looking for other potential leaks.  Ayres says it's unclear how long this process will take.

Chevron officials say they're still investigating the exact cause of the fire.  Richmond's mayor is calling for full transparency in the investigation.

“We live with this risk day in and day out. I will be seeking a full investigation and analysis from both Chevron and independent sources. I am calling on Chevron for full and complete transparency and accountability in determining what caused the health and safety of our residents to be jeopardized,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said in a written statement. “Our community is rightfully concerned and we shall continue to seek full cooperation from Chevron regarding all aspects of their day-to-day operations of this inherently dangerous and complex process of oil refining.”

The fire sent scores of people to area hospitals, many of them complaining of shortness of breath.  None appeared seriously hurt.  Three plant workers suffered minor injuries during the fire and its aftermath.

Officials with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District are still awaiting test results on samples collected during the fire.

"Local air quality monitors show minimal impacts from the fire, with pollution levels well below the federal health standards," the district said in a written statement.  "Weather conditions were favorable at the time of the incident – surface winds were light and heat pushed the smoke upwards where stronger winds aloft helped to disperse it."

A community meeting is set for 6:00 p.m. Tuesday involving Chevron, local officials, and members of the public. |

Stay tuned to KRON 4 and KRON4.com for the latest on this developing story.

(Copyright 2012, KRON 4 All rights reserved.)
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