Did earthquake cause California refinery fire? Investigators are looking for clues

Investigators are working to find out whether an explosion and fires Tuesday afternoon at a Northern California refinery are connected to a 4.5-magnitude earthquake the previous night, KGO reports.

The fires broke out Tuesday afternoon at the NuStar refinery in the San Francisco Bay Area. Television video reports show a shattered tank and another tank ablaze following the 2 p.m. incident.

The fires were contained at 9 p.m. after reigniting twice, and a shelter-in-place order for the community was lifted at 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, CBS News reported.

All schools in the nearby John Swett Unified School District remained closed Wednesday as a result of the fire, KGO reported.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office Community Warning System had earlier issued an alert calling the incident “a hazardous materials emergency in Crockett and Rodeo” and advising people in the area to shelter in place to avoid hazardous materials.

The alert said that “the danger will be much less indoors. Go inside, and close all windows and doors. Turn off all heaters, air conditioners, and fans. Unless you are using your fireplace, close your fireplace dampers and vents. Cover any cracks around doors or windows with tape or damp towels.”

The alert asked locals to stay off the phone and refrain from calling 911 except in the case of a life-threatening emergency.

Contra Costa firefighters said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon that no injuries had been reported from NuStar workers or emergency responders.

Caltrans shut down Interstate 80 traffic in both directions near the site of the fire Tuesday evening, the agency said on Twitter just before rush hour.

On Tuesday evening, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued an air quality advisory for smoke east of Rodeo along the Carquinez Strait, including for “Benicia, Martinez, Baypoint, Pittsburg and areas to the East.”

“Onshore winds are expected to blow smoke east towards the Central Valley, but localized impacts near the fire are possible,” the advisory said. “Currently, impacts include smoky skies, smell of smoke and localized elevated particulate pollution.”

Videos were posted to social media showing the damage.

The incident follows reports of flaring at nearby refineries following a 4.5-magnitude quake Monday night.

Related stories from Hilton Head Island Packet

Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.
Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based at The Sacramento Bee since 2016.