Home Fire News Fireballs shoot into the sky after major explosion at California refinery

Fireballs shoot into the sky after major explosion at California refinery

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Katie Dowd
San Francisco Chronicle

THE LATEST, Oct. 15, 9:12 p.m.: The fire at the NuStar Energy facility in Crockett has been contained, according to a tweet from the Contra Costa Fire Protection District.

UPDATE, Oct. 15, 7:45 p.m.: The flames of a flare-up that occurred shortly before 7 p.m. have been extinguished, but firefighters are continuing to monitor things, following the compromise of two storage tanks said to contain ethanol.

The Contra Costa Fire Protection District said in a press conference that firefighters will continue to apply firefighting foam and water to the two compromised tanks, and assured residents that the fire is contained to the NuStar Energy facility in Crockett.

ConFire said it is becoming “less concerned” about the threats to three other tanks, but they are continuing to keep them cool as the situation continues.

UPDATE, Oct. 15, 7 p.m.: A flare-up has occurred at the scene of a fire taking place at the NuStar Energy facility in Crockett, renewing flames that first broke out early Tuesday afternoon.

At least one storage tank appeared to be threatened by the fire, and a substance appeared to be leaking out the top of the tank in live footage of the scene.

A massive fire broke out at a NuStar Energy facility in Crockett, sending plumes of flame and thick black smoke into the air and causing a vegetation fire Tuesday afternoon.

The fire started in the NuStar Energy storage tanks on San Pablo Avenue about 1:50 p.m., and early television reports indicated there may have been an explosion as well.

Two storage tanks were engulfed in flames and the hills behind the tanks, which are golden with dry grass, also caught fire. An airplane and helicopter conducted air drops of water and fire retardant on the hills throughout the afternoon. The fire was fully contained and consumed just 15 acres immediately surrounding the facility, according the Contra Costa Fire Protection District at a 5:45 p.m. news conference.

“Active fire suppression” is happening at the facility, and while much of the black smoke has subsided, the Contra Costa Fire Protection District warned of potential flare-ups continuing as they wait for the fire to subside. Firefighters are using firefighting foam and water to keep the fire suppressed, and meanwhile are monitoring three other nearby tanks containing either jet fuel or ethanol that are being threatened, and are trying to keep those tanks cool.

“What’s actually in that column of smoke is being monitored by environmental health agencies,” George Laing with the Contra Costa Fire Protection District said.

A video posted to YouTube shows the top of one of the storage tanks being flung into the air as the fire rages.

Nearby residents in Crockett, Hercules and Rodeo were asked to shelter in place and keep their windows closed, as the black smoke could contain contaminants that are hazardous to those with lung problems. That order was briefly lifted for Rodeo just after 4:30 p.m., but was later reinstated at 5 p.m. The shelter in place continuously remained intact for the city of Crockett.

ConFire stressed that the shelter-in-place orders will be lifted once it is safe to do so, and encouraged anyone experiencing respiratory distress to call 911 “to have those medical concerns addressed.”

“Go inside, and close all windows and doors. Turn off all heaters, air conditioners, and fans,” cautioned the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office. “Unless you are using your fireplace, close your fireplace dampers and vents. Cover any cracks around doors or windows with tape or damp towels.”

NuStar Energy is a San Antonio-based company that bills itself as “one of the largest independent liquids terminal and pipeline operators in the nation.” Contra Costa County District One Supervisor John Gioia said on KTVU that their tanks “store products for local refineries.”

“There was an explosion there,” Gioia said. “A couple tanks are on fire.”



NuStar issued a statement at 4 p.m. It reads: “NuStar is working with first responders to extinguish a fire at its Selby Terminal in Crockett, CA. There are two impacted tanks, which were holding very low volumes of ethanol – less than 1% of tank capacity.”

Nearby tanks are being cooled in order to “minimize the risk of the fire spreading.”

A Phillips 66 refinery is located next door, and does not appear to have incurred any damage.

The cause of the explosion and fire are still unknown, but the fire investigation unit for ConFire will be investigating the cause. No injuries were immediately reported.

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