News Conference, partial transcript of Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick’s remarks on the 4-Alarm Port Fire
What follows is my rough transcription of most of Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick’s statement to the press on April 9, 2022 concerning the 4-alarm fire at the Port of Benicia. (Taken from audio that is difficult at best.) – R.S.
>> Chief Chadwick reported that the fire started in a small outbuilding at the base of the petcoke silos. The conveyor belt that goes from there up toward where the ships are loaded was catching fire. At first the Fire Department thought they had a petcoke fire.
The fire at the base of the silo was quickly extinguished, but the crews had a difficult time accessing the conveyor belt system. It’s large rubber tracks were on fire all the way to the top.
The fire dropped from the top of the conveyor belt and ultimately caught the pier on fire. The pier is large with a blacktop road surface, and underneath it are large timbers that have been soaked in creosote. When those start burning, they are very difficult to access and extinguish, and they were the main part of the fire during this incident. We requested 4 fire boats, as they are the only real access to these creosote logs beneath the pier.
Our biggest concern was the unlikely possibility of a shift in wind direction. Light winds have continued to move from the west, blowing the smoke out onto the Strait.
The other concern would be hazardous materials. Obviously there’s a lot of chemicals in that wood, and everything else on that pier that would’ve made its way into the water, and we are working closely with Fish and Wildlife and US Coast Guard on that issue….
We have also been in contact with AMPORTS and Valero Refinery…
(in response to press questions…)
We had a very similar pier fire early on in my career, and it burned for a couple of days…
That pier is used for offloading oil from ships, loading petcoke onto ships, and offloading cars…
It will likely be 24 to 48 hours before the fire is completely extinguished.
Hazardous materials have burned. Petcoke is considered a hazardous material. I do not know if any of it burned, but my understanding is that the large volume of it in the silos is not currently on fire, so if it did, it was a small amount at the base. On the pier itself, there are numerous hazardous materials: there are tanks of gasoline, tanks of diesel that we can’t get to because there’s fire underneath it. That has the potential to burn, but for the most part, what’s been burning is the timber that has been soaked in creosote, and that also is hazardous. When it burns it emits hazardous smoke. …yes there are a few small tanks on top…
I’m not a hazardous materials expert, but if you know what railroad ties are,…it’s like a black oil that they have used for many years to keep lumber from rotting if it’s in the ground or water.
QUESTION about the impact of these chemicals on the environment and the ocean if some of that petcoke did burn, and these other products…
My primary concern is with the impact to our citizens in their air, and right now 100% due to favorable wind conditions, we haven’t had that issue. And the same with my fire crews on the scene – they have not been impacted by that. As far as what it does to the environment, that would be more a question for the Bay Area Air Quality District.
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