Fire officials and Chevron said the large dramatic flames seen over the Richmond Chevron refinery in Northern California Thursday were a result of "normal flaring." But that didn't do much to comfort people living near the troubled refinery, who called the flares anything but "normal" on social media.
Both Contra Costa fire department officials and Chevron said there was no need for alarm, calling the flaring normal procedure to vent gas. They added that fire crews had not been called to the scene. The official Twitter account for @ChevronRichmond tweeted Thursday evening that "there was some visible flaring" to allow for equipment de-pressuring.
Chevron said that the refinery resumed normal operations Friday morning after the unit that needed to be depressurized Thursday night was successfully shut down. Chevron said community air monitoring stations reported levels below state and federal health limits.
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"We understand that the community has been concerned about the flaring activity," a Chevron spokesperson said after the flares alarmed a number of Bay Area residents Thursday. "We had a process unit that needed to be depressurized, creating a visible flare. The flare is part of our safety system which enables us to safely shut down a unit. We are in the process of shutting down this unit now."
Some Bay Area residents tweeted about the flares, with one of them asking: "Gigantic fire balls are now normal flares?"
Another said: "If it's 'normal,' then why don't we see this regularly?"
Jamal Vaughn, who lives near the Richmond refinery, expressed concern about the flames coming out of the stacks.
"No alarm went off ... It's Kind of strange, there should have been a warning," he said. It's an alarming sight for the Vaughns, who remember the 2012 Chevron refinery fire.
"I worry about our health — last time we were at the hospital for four hours because I have asthma and needed breathing treatment," Vaughn's wife Michelle said, adding that the family will be shutting all their windows tonight.
Chevron's statement said that in flaring conditions, it is normal practice to release quantities of water vapor to assist with the flare quality, which can sometimes take on the appearance of smoke, but it is not smoke.
Both Chevron and Contra Costa Health Services said that there may be intermittent flaring Thursday evening. According to health officials, hazardous materials staff were monitoring the situation and there was no shelter-in-place.
NBC Bay Area viewers said they could see the fire from as far away as the El Cerrito Hills, San Rafael, San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. A photo taken by Twitter user @bluerabbit77 from the Oakland Hills showed the flares creating an orange haze over the night sky.
NBC Bay Area's Jean Elle contributed to this report.
The large flames at the Chevron Refinery are the result of normal flaring. No emergencies currently reported. — PIO (@ContraCostaFire) December 19, 2014
There was some visible flaring tonight to allow for equipment de-pressuring. Flaring is a part of refinery operations. — Chevron Richmond (@ChevronRichmond) December 19, 2014