Massive 4-alarm fire at Port of Benicia, California, US
Ferocious flames tore through a pier at the Port of Benicia situated in the North Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area in Solano County, California in the US, sending up thick black smoke. The four-alarm blaze began early Saturday afternoon, 9 April 2022, near a silo filled with petroleum coke, a by-product of refining fuel. It later spread to a long wooden dock, topped with concrete. Putting out the flames was nearly impossible. "That wood was soaked in creosote which is like an oil product to keep it from rotting, it's also flammable difficult to extinguish even if we had access to it," said Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick. Fire assets from across Solano County, Contra Costa and Napa counties reported to the scene. Fireboats working the incident arrived from San Francisco, Oakland, Port Chicago, Southern Marin, Tiburon and Redwood City. The dramatic firefight continued through the night and declared contained at 09h40am on Sunday and extinguished at 12h24pm the same day. On Monday morning, Benicia fire fighter Mike Brown said there had been no reported injuries to fire fighters.
The fire, at the 1000 block of Bayshore Drive adjacent to the Amports port terminal, was near the petroleum coke silos, said Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick. The initial fire was at the base of the silos. The surrounding vegetation and on the conveyor was extinguished quickly, according to a news release. A portion of the fire continued on the underside of the pier structure, which is constructed of large creosote-coated timber covered by thick asphalt road surface. Fire crews worked through the night to contain the fire.
Along with the fire suppression response, Benicia Fire command staff coordinated efforts with multiple partner agencies including Solano County Office of Emergency Services, Solano County Department of Environmental Health, California Office of Emergency Services, California Fish and Wildlife, US Coast Guard, Bay Area Air Quality Management District and representatives from the Valero Refinery and Amports.
“The primary concern was the safety of the community,” said Chadwick in the same news release. “The biggest potential threat to the community was air quality. The smoke emitting from the fire contained particulate matter and the potential of toxicity from chemicals. We were fortunate in having continuous wind blowing from the west, allowing the smoke to blow towards the water and dissipate before impacting other populated areas.”
The Solano County Fire Investigation Unit is currently working to determine the cause and origin of the fire. In the coming days Benicia staff said it will work closely with Valero and Amports to aid in evaluating the integrity of the port, determine operational capacity and make preparations for repairs and reconstruction.
Non-profit San Francisco Baykeeper shared drone footage over the fire, capturing what appeared to be an oily residue on the water, which could pose a risk to the environment and marine life. "But obviously no amount of petroleum product is an acceptable amount to wind up in the water," said Cole Burchiel from Baykeeper.
The Fire department says it’s working with the US Coast Guard and California Department of Fish and Wildlife to address pollution issues.
The dock is used primarily to offload imported cars from Asia and also used by the Valero Benicia refinery.
While damage at the port is still being assessed, Benicia's deputy city manager believes economic impacts may be felt across the region and could make gas prices even worse. "If the port is out of commission and there's a challenge to bringing in crude to the refinery, absolutely it will have an impact. Valero supplies a lot of California's gasoline, if they're impacted by processing crude, that will be an impact for the region, said Benicia Deputy city manager Mario Giuliani.
Meanwhile, the Vallejo Fire Department was also busy working to put out two separate fires on Saturday, one a three-alarm blaze near the Carquinez Bridge and the other a fire near the city’s waterfront.
Source: ABC7 News, Times-Herald