A power outage at Tesoro’s Golden Eagle refinery in Martinez caused excessive flaring at the refinery. Health officials are issuing a warning for communities downwind of the plant.

The Bay Area Quality Management District explains:

The Tesoro Refinery reported the incident at their Martinez facility at 4:12 p.m. today. The Air District has several inspectors on site to assist Contra Costa County first responders.

Refineries use flares as emergency devices to prevent catastrophic failure of equipment. Flares are designed to funnel emissions high up into the air to minimize the impact on the surrounding area.

“What’s happening is the smoke contains a lot of unburned hydrocarbons, a lot of unburned materials, and smoke just typically is not healthy to breathe, and so we want people to avoid breathing it, especially people with pre-existing respiratory conditions,” Steve Morioka told KQED, the assistant director of the Contra Costa Health Services Hazardous Materials Program.

The Contra Costa’s Sheriff’s office warns that anyone experiencing eye, skin, nose or throat irritation are advised to go indoors and rinse any irritated area of their body with water, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Contra Costa Health Services says that people in Clyde and North Concord should go inside, close all windows and doors, and turn off all heaters, air conditioners and fans.

The refinery is on the outskirts of Martinez, near North Concord. Though the smoke is expected to move toward Clyde and Bay Point because of wind conditions.

The initial PG&E power outage that caused the flare affected about 17,000 customers in the area. By 6 pm most customers had their service restored.

UPDATED 7:23 pm: The Shelter-in-Place has been lifted, but a health advisory remains in effect for the areas of Avon, Clyde, all of Concord, Port Chicago, and the neighborhood of east of Highway 242, south of Highway 4 and north of Olivera Road. People with preexisting medical conditions like asthma should continue to take precautions like staying inside and keeping outside air from coming indoors, according to Contra Costa Health Services.

Tesoro Refinery Flare-Up in Martinez 10 November,2010Lisa Pickoff-White

  • Steven Siljestrom

    How about a map or address so people know the exact location.

    • Lisa Pickoff-White

      Health officials are asking that people “shelter-in-place,” staying wherever they are.

      A shelter was established later this evening at Heald college.

      We’ll keep you updated as we receive more information.

      Lisa Pickoff-White, Interactive Producer

  • Alan

    I live in pleasant hill, I could clearly see the huge smoke cloud needles to I’m now in Alameda County waiting for the shelter alert to be lifted.

  • Charlene Bryant

    I could smell the smoke when I was driving on the freeway past Port Chicago Highway. Since there was a bad smell in my car as I was approaching the smoke, I turned off my car heater. I have asthma, so I have to take precautions when there is dense smog or smoke.
    I’d like to know when it will be safe to go outside since I live in Bay Point. We don’t smell any odors outside at 7:30 tonight, but I think that I’m going to be cautious tomorrow and not go outside!


Lisa Pickoff-White

Lisa Pickoff-White is KQED’s data reporter. Lisa specializes in simplifying complex topics and bringing them to life through compelling visuals, including photography and data visualizations. She previously has worked at the Center for Investigative Reporting and other national outlets. Her work has been honored with awards from the Online News Association, Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists and SXSW Interactive.  Follow: @pickoffwhite Email: lpickoffwhite@kqed.org

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