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UPDATE: Benicia Pier Fire Finally Extinguished; Boaters Warned Of Floating Debris

BENICIA (CBS SF) -- Nearly 24 hours after it ignited in flames, firefighters finally extinguished a four-alarm blaze Sunday afternoon that gutted a commercial pier along the Benicia waterfront.

Left behind in the fire's wake was a jumbled pile of burned and charred timbers and melted asphalt.

The U.S. Coast Guard issued a warning boaters traveling in the busy channel to also be aware of the debris floating in the water.

"The fire caused extensive damage to the facility," said Cmdr. Rhianna Macon, U.S. Coast Guard Deputy Incident Commander. "As such, there is an uncertain amount of debris in the area that could be potentially hazardous to boaters. We urge mariners to remain vigilant and stay safe on the water."

Fire officials said the blaze was declared contained at 9:40 a.m. and was declared extinguished at 12:24 p.m. The Solano County Fire Investigation Unit was currently working to determine the cause and origin.

According to Benicia Fire Chief Jose Chadwick the incident began around 2:20 p.m. Saturday with crews being called to the wharf area for a fire near the petcoke silos. Petcoke is a byproduct of the oil refining process.

Port workers reported they first saw flames burning the conveyor belt that was transporting petroleum coke onto a ship.

"That fire was quickly extinguished but we had a very difficult time accessing the conveyor belt system," he said. "The large rubber tracks (of the conveyor belts) were on fire. The fire dropped from that conveyor belt and ultimately caught the pier on fire."

The fire burned in the wooden support structure that had been treated years ago with creosote -- a wood preservative.

"There are large timbers that are creosote soaked logs and when they start burning it's very difficult to extinguish," Chadwick said. "That's what's burning now."

A KPIX camera captured footage of what appeared to be black dust floating on the water. The San Francisco Baykeeper also shared drone footage showing black streaks floating near the fire.

Benicia city officials said the U.S. Coast Guard and the Fish and Wildlife were monitoring the environmental impact on the bay.

"It has been a very, very difficult situation to extinguish," Chadwick said.

The only way to fight was via fire boats, which have limited access depending on the tide. Six fire boats from around the Bay Area were sent to the scene, as well as U.S. Coast Guard vessels.

Fire Boat Battles a Blaze in Benicia April 9, 2022
A fire boat battles the 4-alarm blaze in Benicia Saturday

Aside from the flames, the massive smoke plume was also of concern.

"The biggest potential threat to the community was air quality," Chadwick said. "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."

Neighbors where also thankful the winds blew the smoke away from Benicia. Particularly those at a wedding that took place right above the port fire.

The bride and groom said they weren't expecting to see an active fire burning so close on their big day.

"Thankfully, God is blowing (the fire) the other way. But we're getting a lot of coverage of the wedding and the fire," said Steve Roberts, the groom's godfather.

"Thank the lord we're good to go. They're married. We get to party now and have a good time," said Matt Roberts, groom's godbrother.

The dock is owned by the city of Benicia and leased to Amports, which uses it to offload imported vehicles from freighters. It is also used by the Valero Benicia Refinery.

Many car dealerships already faced a shortage of new cars. Amports' general manager said no comment when reached by phone. It was unclear if the fire would worsen the shortage of new cars at Bay Area dealerships.

"It's certainly going to be an economic impact to Amports and Valero," said Mario Giuliani, the deputy city manager for Benicia.

Despite the potential economic fallout, city officials said there were no injuries and health concerns for Benicia residents.

© Copyright 2022 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. KPIX reporter Da Lin contributed to the story

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