At 6:15 Pacific time last evening, crude distillation unit Number 4 at Chevron’s Richmond, California, petroleum refinery exploded. From the Times:

“I walked outside and saw what looked like a lot of steam coming out of Chevron, way more than usual. I thought they must have blown a boiler,” said Ryan Lackay, a 45-year-old employee at a chemical plant next door to the refinery.

“And then all of a sudden it just went whoosh, it ignited.”

According to a nearby reporter, other explosions followed. The resulting fire created a massive cloud of black smoke that hung over Richmond and drifted south over the San Francisco Bay. Multiple BART stations were closed; the National Weather Service issued a “shelter in place” advisory to residents of the East Bay area.

Residents in Richmond. North Richmond and San Pablo. Are advised to shelter in place. Go inside. Close All windows and doors. Turn off all heaters. Air conditioners and fans. If not using the fireplace. Close fireplace dampers and vents. And cover cracks around doors and windows with tape or damped towels. Media news networks will continue to carry updated emergency information. Stay Off the telephone unless you have a life threatening emergency.

Photo by Hillary Hartley.

On the live stream from the S.F. ABC affiliate, the reporters were as flummoxed as everyone else. It wasn’t clear, for example, if some of the visible flames were from regularly occurring gas flares or part of the accident. A reporter on-scene stumblingly explained that it might be “hydrocarbons” or “petroleum products” that are burning.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, one refinery employee was slightly burned but treated; a few dozen local residents sought treatment for difficulty breathing.

Kaiser’s Richmond Medical Center said several dozen people came to the emergency room Monday night complaining of shortness of breath, but none was seriously ill.

Julius Bailey, 21, who lives on Barrett Avenue in Richmond, blocks away from the refinery, was at the hospital wearing a face mask. He said his throat had started burning and his eyes itching. After seeing a doctor, he said, “They told me I’m not going to die, but it sure feels pretty serious.”

As Oakland’s Ella Baker Center notes:

At 11:20, five hours after the first flames appeared, the shelter-in-place warning was lifted. A spokesperson from Chevron released the following statement:

[We are] very disappointed that this happened, and apologize that we are inconveniencing our neighbors.

The fire is contained, but continues to burn.

Update: Here is footage of the fire, taken yesterday afternoon.