East Bay News

CSB: Chevron fire was a close call

Monday, August 20, 2012
Richmond Chevron Refinery fire white cloud Richmond Chevron Refinery fire vapor cloud CSB holds press conference on Chevron fire

The chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, or CSB, describes the Richmond Chevron Refinery fire as "a close call." He said that after a detailed inspection of the damage late Monday afternoon. Their tour of the plant wrapped up just before 5 p.m. Investigators are still trying to pinpoint the cause of the massive fire that blanketed the East Bay in thick dark smoke two weeks ago.

The chairman made an appearance at Monday's press conference to not only show the seriousness of the investigation, but to also show that his team is working hard to figure out exactly what happened at the refinery. There was some new information revealed in the investigation.

CSB investigators were trying to get close enough to see the pipe blamed for the fire. They said a huge vapor cloud may have enveloped as many as 20 Chevron workers -- workers they say who barely escaped with their lives before the vapor cloud went up in smoke. The CSB has also conducted 65 witness interviews and have reviewed 75 pages of documents on the pipes, provided by Chevron.

The damaged part of the refinery is still off limits because it was ground zero of the explosion. There continues to be a slow hydrogen leak and until it is sealed, CSB investigators cannot go close than 30 feet without respiratory gear.

"We are extremely pleased that there hasn't been any loss of life here, but still, I think that it behooves us to really look at this as a close call and that we need to look and try to prevent things that could have been starting early with a bigger impact to the community than we saw in this particular fire," said chairman of the CSB Rafael Moure-Eraso, Ph.D.

At the press conference Monday CSB said they reviewed a security video that showed the vapor cloud engulfing the plant and workers before the blaze started. The CSB showed photos from an amateur photographer of that same vapor cloud taken from Pier 39 in San Francisco at the time of the fire.

Contra Costa County health officials say that the thick cloud of smoke from the Chevron refinery two weeks ago dispensed small amounts of particulate matter into the air. Health officials believe that the smoke is responsible for sending hundreds of people to local hospitals with complaints of breathing and asthma problems.

Bay Area air quality officials are testing some of those air samples after the accident and they hope by the end of the week, they can see exactly what those air samples say.

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chevron, richmond, fire, east bay news
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