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Fire Contained At Richmond Refinery; Dozens Hospitalized From Smoke

RICHMOND (CBS SF) - Crews have fully contained at a 3-alarm fire that followed an explosion at the Chevron refinery in Richmond Monday night. Shelter-in-place warnings for several East Bay communities have been lifted, but a number of people checked in to local hospitals complaining of respiratory problems.

The fire started at the refinery's "4 Crude Unit" at 6:15 p.m. Monday, according to a statement from Chevron. The company said a small leak in the diesel processing unit grew and caught fire.

A shot time later, at least two steady eruptions of flame were visible from CBS 5 cameras. A pair of thick plumes of smoke were also rising into the skies of the East Bay well into the night.

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Residents of Richmond, The North Oakland Hills, North Richmond, West Richmond, Rodeo, El Cerrito and San Pablo were directed to stay in their homes until the situation could be resolved. The orders were canceled around 11:15 p.m. The Richmond and El Cerrito Bay Area Rapid Transit stations were also closed for hours, but all locations had reopened before midnight.

A Richmond Kaiser Hospital reported about three dozen emergency room patients with respiratory concerns.

Refinery general manager Nigel Hearne said at a news conference around 8:30 p.m. that one employee suffered a minor burn to his wrist and was treated on site.

He offered an apology to residents and said the priority is extinguishing the blaze.

"As you can see, we've made significant progress, and we're still in the process of controlling the fire," Hearne said.

The company said that all employees were safe and accounted for.

"Our priority right now is containing the fire and protecting the health and safety of our employees and the community," a statement read.

KCBS' Chris Filippi Reports:

An automated phone message sent out by Contra Costa Health Services informed nearby residents that an emergency at the refinery.

"Go inside. Close all windows and doors," the message stated.

It advised residents to turn off heaters, air conditioners and fans, and to cover cracks around doors with tape or damp towels.

The company has scheduled a town hall meeting at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium on Tuesday, August 7 at 6:00 p.m. located at 403 Civic Center Plaza, to provide further details and answer questions from the community.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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