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Community Meeting on Chevron Fire

Posted on Fri, Jan. 19, 2007




Click Here for a copy of the report and click here for a meeting flyer.

Details emerge on Chevron fire
RICHMOND: Community meeting will address concerns about notification of residents


A morning fire that sent flames shooting 100 feet into the air at the Bay Area's largest oil refinery this week started when hot diesellike oil leaked from a pipe or pump, county health officials said Thursday.

It is unclear what caused the leak at the Chevron Richmond Refinery, said Randy Sawyer, county hazardous materials programs director.

Initial reports show the fire expelled sulfur dioxide and other toxins into the air, but at low levels that would not impact nearby residents, he said.

The fire began at 5:18 a.m. Monday and caused no obvious damage to Point Richmond neighborhoods. Because of a software malfunction and other delays, a Tennessee company contracted with the county to notify residents about refinery emergencies took more than an hour to call 2,800 households.

That is one of many topics that will be addressed Wednesday night in Point Richmond at a community meeting about the fire.

"We personally could have helped to get it done faster, but not that much faster," Sawyer said. "We always review these incidents to see how we can improve that process."

Chevron released a brief report Thursday that included few new details on the fire or its impacts. The San Ramon-based company updated its initial findings of one injured worker to two. Both employees -- one with minor burns and the other with minor skin irritation -- returned to work later on Monday, according to the report.

The fire started at the refinery's No. 4 crude unit, which was in the process of being shut down for planned maintenance and inspection. The Richmond refinery -- the Bay Area's largest, with refining production of up to 240,000 barrels of crude oil per day -- was not expected to slow down due to the fire, Sawyer said.

The state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health has roped off the area where the fire began as part of its investigation. Chevron officials, who will release a more detailed report by Feb. 14, did not return phone calls seeking comment Thursday.

Richmond city Councilman Tom Butt, who lives south of the refinery, said he plans at Tuesday's council meeting to reintroduce a law that would fine Chevron $6,000 a minute from the time emergency sirens begin until county officials deem the area safe. A similar ordinance Butt proposed in 2002 did not pass.

In Monday's incident, which happened when most people had the day off work for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, residents were asked to close their windows, shut off ventilation systems and stay put for three hours.

"Once those sirens sound, you are supposed to shelter in place," Butt said. "That means nobody goes to work, nobody comes to work in the west end of Richmond and no schools open. The cost of that is incredible. What we really need to focus on is this: How does a community coexist with a high-risk industry right in its midst?"

Ryan Huff covers Contra Costa County government. Reach him at 925-977-8471 or rhuff@cctimes.com.

if you go

Contra Costa County will hold a community meeting about the Chevron fire from 7 to 8:45 p.m. Wednesday at Washington Elementary School, 565 Wine St., Point Richmond. Agencies making presentations will include the Health Services Department, Sheriff's Office, Contra Costa Community Awareness and Emergency Response, Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Chevron. For more information, call 877-662-8376.