Oct. 18–A fire that is threatening an underground natural gas pipeline in the San Francisco Bay Area prompted authorities to evacuate about 4,000 people late Wednesday and close an elementary school for a day.
The situation started with a small vegetation fire about 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Bay Point community. Contra Costa County fire crews extinguished the blaze and left. About an hour later, they got another call about a fire inside a vault that houses gas pipelines operated by Chevron, said Assistant Fire Chief Terence Carey.
“It was realized very quickly that there was a high probability of danger,” he said during a news conference Thursday morning.
Law enforcement, fire officials and Chevron evacuated 1,400 homes in Bay Point overnight.
Some residents were awakened by officials pounding on their doors beginning at 11 p.m. and continuing through the early morning hours, telling them to evacuate immediately. One man wrote on social media that he left with his family with just the clothes they were wearing. Evacuation centers were set up at a church and the Bay Point BART station.
Chevron worked overnight to reduce pressure on the gas line inside the vault, which resulted in a loud, shrieking noise that was described by fire officials as “a jet-engine-like sound” emanating from the area.
On Thursday, officials plan to purge the remaining natural gas from the line and inject it with nitrogen, which will extinguish the fire, said Chevron project coordinator Cary Wages.
Wages said the area is no longer at risk of an explosion, a possibility that had concerned officials overnight.
It is not clear when residents will be able to return to their homes. Officials anticipated it could be several hours before the fire in the vault was put out. After that, fire authorities will inspect the area to ensure it is safe.
Willow Cove Elementary School in Pittsburg, Calif., was closed Thursday because of the evacuations.
“We’re very sympathetic to the citizens displaced from their home, but we want to ensure their safety,” Carey said.
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