Oct. 18–The threat of an explosion in an underground Chevron gas line vault forced the evacuation of 4,000 people Wednesday night in Bay Point and crews continued to work into the morning to diffuse the threat.
Contra Costa County firefighters extinguished a grass fire in the area of Bailey Road around 6 p.m. but returned to the scene an hour later after hearing reports of a fire in a Chevron vault, where workers access gas pipeline valves. At one point the vault reached 430 degrees, officials said. Fire crews also received reports of sparking and drooping power lines, which they said created a volatile situation.
“We realized very quickly there was a high probability of danger, so a decision was made to escalate the incident, which included setting an evacuation zone of a half mile,” said Terence Carey, an assistant fire chief for the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District.
Residents of 1,400 homes between Bailey Road and Loftus Lane south of the railroad tracks and north of the Hanlon Way remained under mandatory evacuation as of 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
Tony Raymond, 53, worked 12 hours Wednesday at a nearby refinery before taking his wife, Wendy, out to dinner to celebrate her 45th birthday. At 9:30 p.m., the couple got into bed with their two dogs, Camilla and Yoko, and fell “dead asleep.”
Two hours later, Raymond woke to seven missed calls from his son, who relayed the evacuation orders. Neighbors had already left the area, and the couple had slept through law enforcement knocking on their door. Raymond walked out his front door around 11:30 p.m. and was met by police officers, who asked him what he was still doing home.
“I have to get the pets,” Raymond recalled saying. “I didn’t have time to put my socks on.”
He put the dogs in his pickup truck, before going to the family’s Toyota with their cat, Princess, and the cage that held their three cockatiels: Summer, Terry and Candy.
“Those are our babies right there,” Tony Raymond said, pointing at the chirping birds. “We had to get them all. It was a nightmare. It was crazy. I hope we don’t have to do that again.”
Raymond and his wife spent the night in the Bay Point BART parking lot, but neither of them slept.
“I still can’t believe this is happening,” Wendy Raymond said. “I was so confused, nauseous at the same time.”
Early Thursday, officials started moving Bay Point BART station evacuees to the parking lot of Los Medanos College. Wendy Raymond sat in the back of the family’s pickup truck, her hands resting on the cages as she shushed the birds.
“They keep saying they’re gonna let everyone back in at 10 a.m., so hopefully we can get some sleep,” Tony Raymond said.
The grass fire affected a 3/8-inch-wide gas line that leads to a 12-inch main line, said Chevron project coordinator Cary Wages.
To reduce the risk of an explosion, officials said, Chevron crews are working to remove natural gas from the lines before injecting nitrogen.
“We are going to purge the entire system (of natural gas), or this segment of the pipeline,” Wages said.
No injuries have been reported and there is no risk of explosion at this time, officials said. Authorities estimated they will clear the scene and lift the evacuation order by late Thursday morning.
“Once the purge is complete and we’re able to ensure that the fire is out and the integrity of that other vault is not compromised, we should be able to lift that evacuation order,” Carey said.
SPREAD THE WORD — Red Cross volunteers have opened a second shelter at Los Medanos College (2700 E. Leland Rd., Pittsburg) for residents evacuated from Bay Point due to wildfire threatening a gas pipeline. #poinsettiaic
— Red Cross Bay Area (@RedCrossBayArea) October 18, 2018
A few hundred evacuees also sheltered overnight at the Calvary Temple Church.
Red Cross officials prepared to receive more people Thursday at the Los Medanos College gymnasium, where volunteers set up several dozen cots and offered water to evacuees.
“I think a lot of folks stayed in their cars hoping it’d lift soon, but it ended up being all night,” said Trevor Riggen, CEO of the Northern California Coastal Region for American Red Cross.
Officials said that three buses were dispatched to get people out of the evacuation zone.
“We recognize we probably have many individuals who don’t have the transportation,” said Lt. Paul O’Mary, a member of the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office. “We went down literally every street.”
Willow Cove Elementary School, which Pittsburg Unified School District officials said was within the evacuation zone, decided to close its doors Thursday.
The Contra Costa Fire Protection District tweeted at 2:23 a.m. that workers are venting the Bay Point gas line, causing a “loud, shrieking noise that has been described as a jet-engine-like sound.” The sound is normal, officials said.
Venting of the Bay Point gas line is resulting in a loud, shrieking noise that has been described as a jet-engine-like sound emanating from the Chevron Pipeline Facility on Buchanan Road in Antioch. This is a normal part of the risk-mitigation process. Please do not call 911.
— Confire PIO (@ContraCostaFire) October 18, 2018
Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains are being rerouted, the rail service announced Thursday morning. Commuters traveling between Sacramento and Martinez can expect delays up to 20 minutes.
(c)2018 the San Francisco Chronicle
Visit the San Francisco Chronicle at www.sfgate.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.