San Francisco: A fire at one of the largest US refineries spewed thick black smoke over cities in the San Francisco Bay area, sending scores of residents to hospitals complaining of breathing problems.
The fire at Chevron`s refinery in Richmond, about 16 kilometers northeast of San Francisco, was out early today morning, San Francisco Bay area-based KGO-TV reported.
Chevron spokeswoman Heather Kulp, however, said at a 5 am news conference that officials were conducting a controlled burn.
"This is ensuring that the incident continues to be maintained under control," she said.
Smoke and flames from the fire, which began around 6:15 pm local time yesterday, could be seen for kilometers.
It was contained and a shelter-in-place order lifted on yesterday night.
The refinery is the largest producer of base oils on the West Coast, processing up to 240,000 barrels of crude oil a day, according to the company`s website.
The company said yesterday it did not know yet whether production would be affected.
The 2007 fire shut down the refinery for most of that year`s first earnings quarter.
Doctors Medical Centre in San Pablo, a town near the Chevron refinery in Richmond, said about 200 people had sought help and more patients were arriving. Kaiser`s Richmond Medical Centre also said several dozen people came to the emergency room complaining of shortness of breath, but none was seriously ill.
Residents said they heard loud blasts around the time the fire broke out, although Chevron officials could not confirm those reports.
The refinery produces gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel and lubricants, as well as chemicals used to manufacture many other products.
The blaze in the refinery`s No 4 Crude Unit was contained by 11 pm yesterday, Chevron said in a statement on its website. Spokesman Nigel Hearne said the cause of the fire hasn`t been determined and he wouldn`t speculate on the cause. One employee suffered a minor injury.