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Officials with the city of Benicia and various state and local agencies are working to assess damage and begin planning cleanup efforts at the site of a four-alarm Benicia Port fire that burned for roughly 24 hours over the weekend.

The fire broke out Saturday at 12:20 p.m. near the Amports terminal at the base of a silo used for petroleum coke, also called petcoke, an oil refining byproduct.

The fire then traveled along a conveyer belt to the dock, where it began burning along the underside of the pier, “which is constructed of large creosote-coated timber covered by thick asphalt,” according to city officials.

Fire crews from several jurisdictions and fire boats from San Francisco, Oakland, Port Chicago, Southern Marin, Tiburon and Redwood City were able to contain the four-alarm blaze by 9:40 a.m. Sunday and extinguish it by about 12:20 p.m. the same day, city officials said.

In addition to fire crews, representatives from several other agencies responded to the fire, including Solano County Office of Emergency Services, Solano County Department of Environmental Health, California Office of Emergency Services, California Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Coast Guard, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, as well as employees from the Valero Refinery and Amports.

Many of those same agencies will likely be involved in the damage assessment and cleanup planning now that the fire is out.

Officials performed walk-throughs Monday to investigate the cause of the fire, evaluate the condition of the dock and determine the “operational capacity at the port,” said Benicia spokesperson Teri Davena.

https://localnewsmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Port-of-Benicia-fire-4.9.22-Baykeeper-4.mov
Drone footage of the April 9, 2022, fire at the Benicia Port. (Video courtesy of San Francisco Baykeeper)

On Saturday, San Francisco Baykeeper released arial drone video footage that it was able to capture while the fire was burning.

The footage shows the large fire, a massive plume of black smoke billowing above the Carquinez Strait, the badly damaged pier, what appears to be fire debris in the water, and fire crews battling the blaze from both the landside and from boats.

“Baykeeper’s thoughts and prayers are with first responders battling to contain the fire, workers at the port, and with the residents of Benicia who may be exposed to additional air and water pollution,” Baykeeper executive director Sejal Choksi-Chugh said in a news release Saturday.

“The primary concern was the safety of the community,” said Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick. “The biggest potential threat to the community was air quality. The smoke emitting from the fire contained particulate matter and (could have been toxic) from chemicals. We were fortunate in having continuous wind blowing from the west, allowing the smoke to blow toward the water and dissipate before impacting other populated areas.”

“It is clear that the Bay will suffer as well, and we will be following up with responsible agencies to determine the extent of the pollution damage done to the Bay.”

Sejal Choksi-Chugh, San Francisco Baykeeper

Solano County Environmental Health staff performed mobile air monitoring near the fire Saturday, and at no time did they register harmful readings.

Smoke from the blaze drifted east, however, and some residents in Antioch and Oakley late Saturday reported smelling an odor that resembled burning railroad ties.

“It is clear that the Bay will suffer as well, and we will be following up with responsible agencies to determine the extent of the pollution damage done to the Bay,” Baykeeper’s Choksi-Chugh said.

In March, Baykeeper, an environmental watchdog group, filed a Clean Water Act lawsuit against Amports and Valero for allegedly discharging petcoke into the Carquinez Strait.

A woman who answered the phone at Amports’ Benicia office declined to comment and an Amports manager did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday, nor did a Valero spokesperson.