Oct. 18–BAY POINT — A fire that sparked inside a Chevron natural gas pipeline vault Wednesday forced the evacuation of about 4,000 people from 1,400 nearby homes that lasted until Thursday afternoon and prompted a staff investigation by the California Public Utilities Commission, authorities said.
The evacuation order issued late Wednesday night, which covered an area in Bay Point between Bailey and Loftus roads and from the railroad tracks south to Hanlon Way, was lifted about 2:30 p.m. Thursday, officials said.
There were no reports of any related injuries as of Thursday. The situation also caused Willow Cove Elementary School in Pittsburg to close for the day.
“The goal was to prevent any injury and to keep anything from being damaged,” said Terence Carey, an assistant fire chief with the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District. “In that sense, it is a positive outcome.”
Fire crews first responded to a small grass fire Wednesday night near Suisun and Poinsettia avenues. Soon after, firefighters learned about an active fire in the underground vault that encases part of a Chevron natural gas pipeline — burning about 15 feet from the grass fire.
At 11:21 p.m. Wednesday, the Contra Costa sheriff’s office said in a tweet that homes in the area were instructed to evacuate.
It was still unclear Thursday whether the grass fire was the cause of the fire in the pipeline vault. The CPUC launched a staff investigation into the pipeline fire, said Christopher Chow, a spokesman for the commission.
In a statement late Wednesday, Chevron spokesman Braden Reddall said the company learned about 8 p.m. of a grass fire caused by an electrical power line falling down that “started a fire near our valve junction on the Northern California Gas Line near Pittsburg.”
According to PG&E spokesperson Tamar Sarkissian, the fire was sparked Wednesday when birds “came into contact” with and knocked down a power line, which is on the border of Bay Point and Pittsburg.
Reddall said Chevron “immediately shut down the (pipeline) and dispatched a field team to investigate” and worked with the fire agencies to evacuate the area.
Many of the evacuees gathered at the Calvary Temple Church on Evora Road in Concord. The Red Cross opened those doors and the main gym to Los Medanos College in Pittsburg and served breakfasts to 460 people. According to the Red Cross, 72 families spent the night at the church, and another 40 to 45 stayed at the college.
The Contra Costa County Animal Services staff also came to the church and college with leashes, crates and food to help care for displaced animals.
“People are slightly distraught. It’s very disorienting,” said Jason Bishop, executive pastor at Calvary Temple Church. “We’re trying to put a smile on their face, encourage them, and make the best of a bad situation.”
It was a slow process to lower the temperature in the vault and to decrease pressure in the pipeline, officials said Thursday. Authorities said that was necessary to ensure safety before sending people back to the nearby homes.
Cary Wages, a Chevron spokesman, said at a news conference that the company spent the night releasing natural gas from the high-pressure pipeline and injecting nitrogen into it to extinguish the fire.
The venting process “resulted in a loud, shrieking noise that has been described as a jet-engine-like sound,” according to ConFire. The agency put out a report on Twitter about the noise and advised residents not to call 911 about it.
Carey, of ConFire, said that the pipe’s pressure was reduced from 480 pounds per square inch to 25 psi.
ConFire spokesman Steve Hill said that infrared imaging from a Pittsburg Police Department drone showed the temperature in the pipeline at its hottest was 400 degrees. Later in the day, he said crews flooded the vault around the pipeline with water to continue to cool it down.
The pipeline is about 200 feet from the nearest home.
Bay Point resident Paul Nguyen, 31, who lives with his uncle, aunt and grandmother, said everyone in his home was sound asleep when they received a call from his cousin about 12:45 a.m. Thursday.
The message: Get out as fast as you can.
“It was scary,” he said. “We didn’t know what the full news was, so we’re wondering, ‘What if it explodes?’ We just moved as fast as we could.”
Evacuees also gathered overnight at the parking lot of the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station on Bailey Road. BART put out an advisory about 3:30 a.m. encouraging drivers to park at another station or to be dropped off at the station, because parking was so limited. BART trains ran normally all day.
Marquitta Hartwell, 36, was among the roughly 40 people in the Calvary Temple Church lobby Thursday morning. She had been evacuated by police who knocked on the door of the Bay Point home where she lives with her mother, father and son; she spent her nervous energy by joining the effort as a volunteer at the church, helping to ensure everyone had food and was checked in.
“I figured we were all here,” she said, “so I might as well do something to help.”
* Report an error
* Policies and Standards
* Contact Us
(c)2018 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)
Visit the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) at www.eastbaytimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.