New fire, now out, flares at Chevron plant as residents are treated for respiratory ailments

Firefighters extinguished a second fire at the Chevron plant this afternoon.

Firefighters extinguished a second fire at the Chevron plant this afternoon.

Firefighters extinguished a second fire at the Chevron plant this afternoon.

A new, smaller, fire flared up Wednesday afternoon near the location of the leak that sparked an inferno at Chevron’s 2,900-acre refinery Monday evening, as hundreds of locals sought medical treatment for eye and respiratory complaints related to the fire.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Chevron confirmed that a smaller fire had erupted in Unit 4 of the refinery, prompting the Richmond Fire Department and other agencies involved in fighting Monday’s fire to return to the facility and provide back-up support.

“Earlier today, a small fire, caused by and located near the initial incident, was detected and quickly extinguished at the Richmond Refinery,” the statement read. “It resulted in no injuries and presented no threat to the public.”

By Wednesday evening, Chevron reported, Monday’s primary blaze had also been extinguished. Engineers had been monitoring a small, controlled fire since Monday to release pressure from the plant.

The oil giant, reeling from the damaging effects of Monday’s accident, reported that the 4 Crude Unit, which was partially destroyed by the fire, had been shut down, while other parts of the refinery would continue to operate.

“We are making transportation fuels, but at a reduced capacity,” the statement read. “We are cooperating fully with regulatory officials to investigate the incident and do not know how long this unit will be down.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), the Richmond refinery processes 245,000 barrels of crude oil each day into petroleum products and other chemicals, nearly 10 percent of California’s daily fuel refining capacity of 2 million barrels per day.

Contra Costa County’s hazardous materials chief Randy Sawyer said staff from the county’s environmental health department were on the scene when the second fire erupted.

“We had staff out there at the time and we understand that this was a result of the fire that happened Monday,” Sawyer said. “This may have been a result of the system being compromised by the fire, but there are no fires going on at this time.”

Sawyer said headway had been made in assessing the environmental and health impact of the fire as figures began to emerge from air quality assessments this afternoon. “We worked with them closely in collecting samples and we feel comfortable with the figures released this morning,” Sawyer said.

On Wednesday afternoon the Bay Area Air Quality Management District released some results from its analysis of air samples taken shortly after the fire broke out. The analysis tested for 23 different compounds, most of which have been determined by the state to be toxic.

“Air samples from the Chevron fire show levels of these potentially toxic pollutants to be well under their reference exposure levels or RELs, and not a significant health concern. These concentrations were similar to the ‘background’ levels measured throughout the Bay Area by our monitoring network,” the agency stated in a press release.

“Local air quality monitors also showed near normal concentrations of air pollution from the fire, with pollution levels significantly below federal health standards,” the statement continued. “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.”

(You can read the agency’s entire report here. Richmond Confidential will continue to follow up on the health and environmental effects of the fire as new information becomes available.)

Doctors Medical Center in San Pablo reported that as of Wednesday morning, more than 600 people had been treated at its center for respiratory ailments resulting from inhaling fumes released by the fire. An estimate released Tuesday night by Contra Costa Health Services stated that at that point, some 949 people had been seen in hospitals throughout the region.

The Doctors Medical Center reported its emergency department had mostly seen  “individuals complaining of symptoms that included respiratory problems and eye irritation,” the center said in a statement. “Most patients were released after being seen.”

Chevron yesterday established a claims process through Crawford and Company, a global claims management company, and opened a hotline for complaints and claims for damages from members of the surrounding community. According to Chevron’s claims procedure, residents will be compensated for out-of-pocket expenses incurred while seeking medical attention for illnesses caused by the smoke and any injuries or damage to property. The claims hotline is 866-260-7881.

The corporation said in a statement that it would try to respond to all claims for health and property damages within three days: “Chevron will strive to pay any appropriate and reasonable claims, including out-of-pocket expenses for medical issues and loss of property.”

You can read our previous coverage, with photos submitted by readers, here. You can read our full archive of Chevron-related stories here.

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