Residents of Richmond, North Richmond and San Pablo were ordered to stay in their homes with the windows and doors closed Monday night after a series of explosions and fires tore through Chevron's Richmond refinery.
The explosions started about 6:15 p.m. and at least two large fires spewed thick, black smoke into the darkening sky.
The fire started at the refinery's No. 4 Crude Unit, Chevron officials said. All employees had been accounted for and there were no fatalities, but one refinery worker suffered burns that were not life-threatening. Chevron would not speculate on the cause of the fire.
About five minutes after the explosions, sirens tore through the air, alerting residents to stay indoors to prevent breathing tainted air. Some people got in their cars and drove away from the smoke.
A thick stench of smoke spread throughout the neighborhoods east of the refinery. As the smoke stretched out over the El Cerrito hills, Contra Costa County hazardous materials units rolled through the neighborhoods.
The refinery was founded more than a century ago and is Northern California's largest, capable of processing more than 242,000 barrels of oil each day. It is the third-largest refinery in the state. A prolonged closure could push up gasoline prices, which are already rising nationwide because of a rally in the market for crude oil.
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