The Chevron refinery fire on Monday Aug. 6, 2012. Photo: Mimi Vitetta

More than 80 firefighters spent five hours battling a blaze that erupted at the Chevron refinery in Richmond, finally extinguishing it around 11:20 pm on Monday. While the main fire is out, Chevron is conducting a small controlled burn to allow hydrocarbons to escape, Chevron spokesman Brent Tippen said at 6 am.

The Contra Costa County Health Services Department lifted its “shelter in place” order for residents in Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo around 11:31 pm on Monday, and the refinery lifted its “shelter in place” instructions about 20 minutes later, said Tippen.

Even though people only immediately around the refinery were formally told to stay inside, shut their doors and windows, and turn off air conditioners, people throughout the East Bay were affected by the fumes and smoke from the fire. The Oakland police issued an advisory at 8:07 pm telling residents of the North Hills about “a large plume of smoke” coming their way.

The plume from the Chevron fire. Photo: D.H. Parks

When Berkeleyside contacted Chevron officials around 9:30 pm Monday, a spokesman said since the warning to stay inside was extended to Oakland, it included Berkeley. A formal “shelter in place” for Berkeley was never issued, however.

The City of Berkeley issued a press release at 11:07 pm recommending that people who smelled smoke stay indoors:

“There is currently no shelter-in-place order for Berkeley. Berkeley’s Public Health and Toxic’s Divisions recommend that people who smell smoke, even if not in a shelter-in-place area, should stay inside with windows and doors closed, and air conditioners turned off.  This is especially important for people with respiratory conditions. Concerned residents may want to follow the same precautions overnight tonight, even without smelling smoke.

All residents are advised to avoid the shelter-in-place areas until the shelter-in-place advisory is lifted.  Smoke can cause eye, throat, and respiratory irritation and can aggravate breathing problems such as asthma. Anyone experiencing acute respiratory symptoms should seek medical attention promptly.”

The Chevron spokesman would not speak to what kind of toxins or particulates might have been released into the air by the fire, nor where they might have spread.

Chevron has not yet established a cause for the fire, according to Tippen. The company will be holding a community meeting Tuesday at 6:00 pm at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. People with questions or concerns can call the community number at 510-242-2000.

The fire apparently is already affecting gas prices. CNBC reported this morning that the gasoline spot market in California was up 2%.

Smoke from the refinery fire on Aug. 6. Photo: Michael Fox

Chevron officials want East Bay residents – including Berkeleyans – to stay indoors [08.06.12]

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...