Explosion, fire burns tanks at Crockett refinery

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CROCKETT (KRON) — An explosion and fire at a refinery in Crockett prompted a shelter in place Tuesday for parts of Contra Costa County.

The shelter in place was lifted in all affected areas around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

The fire burned at the NuStar facility on San Pablo Avenue in Crockett.

The incident was first reported just before 2 p.m. and prompted an hours-long freeway closure in the East Bay.

Flames died down Tuesday evening, but around 7 p.m., the fire flared up again.

As of 9 p.m., Contra Costa Fire officials said the fire was contained.

The agency said HazMat teams will stay on scene to assess the health threat in Crockett, Rodeo and Hercules.

The Contra Costa Fire Department was changing an ‘apparatus’ when flames flared up.

Residents in the area tell KRON4 that a large explosion happened before the fire erupted.

For an interactive map showing where the shelter in place order is in effect, click here.

Shelter in Place Map

Tanks Burning

According to Contra Costa Fire, two large tanks of ethanol burned in the fire.

There was confusion earlier in the day on whether two or three tanks were burning.

Around 6 p.m., the fire department confirmed it was, in fact, only two tanks that were involved.

One of the tanks collapsed due to structure failure.

Pipes connecting the tanks were also damaged.

The tanks are believed to hold about 250,000 gallons of ethanol in total.

Air Quality

The fires and explosion prompted an air quality advisory on Tuesday for the area surrounding the Carquinez Strait.

Winds are likely to blow smoke from the fire east toward the Central Valley, according to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

“If the smell of smoke is present or visible, it is important that Bay Area residents protect their health by avoiding exposure,” the air quality district said in a statement. “If possible, stay inside with windows and doors closed until smoke levels subside. It is also recommended that Bay Area residents set air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate to prevent outside air from moving inside.

Fire crews tackled the flames with foam and water, they say, though it’s unclear how long the tanks could burn.

Moment Tank Exploded

Video obtained by KRON4 shows the moment one of the tanks exploded.

In the video, a fireball can be seen flying into the air followed by the roof of the tank.

Explosion Sparks Grass Fire

The fire also spread to nearby brush.

CAL FIRE crews worked to put out a 15-acre vegetation fire near the tanks on fire.

As of 7 p.m., the fire was 75 percent contained, though crews struggled to access certain parts of the fire because of how close it was burning to the tanks.

The incident also forced evacuations in the small community of Tormey, near Rodeo and Crockett.

School Closures

The refinery fire nearly forced schools to close in the John Swett Unified School District.

The district originally said Wednesday’s classes would be cancelled at Carquinez Middle School, John Swett High School, Rodeo Hills Elementary School and Willow High School.

Late Tuesday, Contra Costa Fire said classes would be in session in the school district on Wednesday.

The announcement came shortly after the shelter in place was lifted and I-80 being reopened.

The West Contra Costa Unified School District also moved outdoor activities inside on Tuesday afternoon for students in Hercules because of the incident.

Residents in Crockett and Rodeo were asked to stay indoors and turn off all heaters, air conditions and fans because of the incident.

Residents are also encouraged to close fireplaces and cover windows or cracks in doors with damp towels.

Road & Freeway Closures

The fire closed both westbound and eastbound traffic on I-80 Tuesday afternoon as drivers approach the Carquinez Bridge on the Contra Costa County side.

I-80 was reopened in both directions as of 9:20 p.m., Contra Costa fire officials said.

CHP originally planned on I-80 reopening by midnight, but that was prior to the flareup later Tuesday evening — which made it likely the closure would continue to the morning commute.

Eastbound lanes on I-80 were closed at Willow Avenue and westbound lanes are closed at Pomona Street because of the fire.

According to Richmond Police, Highway 4 leading to the Carquinez Bridge was also closed.

The San Francisco Ferry provided additional ferry service Tuesday night for commuters because of the road closures.

Drivers were asked to take alternate routes because of the closures.

Shelter in Place

A shelter in place was in effect for the surrounding areas including Rodeo, Crockett and the northern part of Hercules.

The shelter order was lifted around 9:30 p.m. in all impacted areas.

Residents were urged to stay inside and close all windows and doors.

Firefighters encouraged residents to bring pets inside as well.

Information released earlier in the day from the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office on the shelter in place:

There is a hazardous materials emergency in Crockett and Rodeo at the Nu Star facility. The danger will be much less indoors. Go inside, and close all windows and doors. Turn off all heaters, air conditioners, and fans. Unless you are using your fireplace, close your fireplace dampers and vents. Cover any cracks around doors or windows with tape or damp towels. Stay off the phone unless you need to report a life-threatening emergency at your location. Remain sheltered indoors until you receive further official instructions. Stay off the phones and do not call 9 1 1 unless you have a life threatening emergency.

Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office

Smoke from the fire was seen billowing over the Bay Area.

NuStar issued a statement around 4 p.m. Tuesday saying the company’s staff are “safe and accounted for.”

The statement read in part:

“NuStar is working with first responders to extinguish a fire at its Selby Terminal in Crockett, CA.  There are two impacted tanks, which were holding very low volumes of ethanol – less than 1% of tank capacity.

All personnel are safe and accounted for.   

NuStar immediately enacted its emergency response procedures.  Adjacent tanks are being cooled to minimize the risk of the fire spreading.  We have contacted all regulatory agencies.”

Check back for updates

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