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Fire erupts at Richmond refinery; smoke warning in Bay Area

  • Smoke pours from a fire at the Chevron Richmond Refinery, seen behind Alcatraz Island in San Francisco, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012. Officials have told residents of two Northern California cities to shelter-in-place as a fire at the refinery releases plumes of black smoke. The fire, first reported at 6:40 p.m. Monday, is burning in a process unit at the refinery, officials said. It was sending smoke over the cities of Richmond and San Pablo. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

RICHMOND — Officials fearing toxic smoke told residents to remain indoors late Monday as a fire at a Chevron refinery released black plumes over the plant in the Bay Area.

The fire broke out at 6:15 p.m., with flames visible at the top of two refinery stacks. Thick black smoke spewed from the Richmond plant, covering the city and San Pablo.

The fire was contained by 10:30 p.m., but it was not known when the flames would be extinguished, said Chevron spokeswoman Heather Kulp. Smoke continued to pour from the facility late Monday.

The blaze started at the refinery's No. 4 Crude Unit after an inspection crew discovered a diesel leak in a line in the unit, Nigel Hearne, manager of the refinery, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Shortly after the crew evacuated the area, the diesel ignited, Hearne said.

One employee suffered a minor injury and was receiving first aid, Chevron officials said.

Residents of Richmond, San Pablo and the unincorporated community of North Richmond were advised by Contra Costa County health officials to "shelter in place," meaning they should not only stay inside, but should also turn off heaters, air conditioners and fans, and to cover cracks around doors with tape or damp towels.

"Any kind of smoke can be toxic," said Randy Sawyer, the chief environmental and hazardous materials officer for the county's health services agency.

"In this smoke, there can also be all kind of byproducts that can be toxic," he said.

The agency had four teams of inspectors in the field taking readings of the air quality, Sawyer said.

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