Chevron Fire: 200 in hospitals and gas prices above $4 a gallon image

A major fire yesterday at one of Chevron’s largest refinery on the West Coast caused minimal impact to the environment, but sent about 200 local residents with breath problems to hospitals.

Smoke and flames from the fire, which began around 6:15 p.m. Monday, could be seen for miles.

The Medical Center in San Pablo, which activated its Incident Command Center shortly after the fire erupted in Chevron’s diesel refinery, admitted 181 residents overnight complaining of eye irritation and respiratory ailments after inhaling smoke from the fire.

The West Coast is particularly vulnerable to spikes in gasoline prices because it’s not well-connected to the refineries along the Gulf Coast, where most of the country’s refining capacity is located, analysts say.

With inventories of gasoline in the region already low compared with the rest of the country, pump prices in California and elsewhere on the West Coast will soon average more than $4 per gallon, Kloza said.

“It’s a very key refinery,” he said.

Chevron’s refinery produces about 150,000 barrels of gasoline a day — 16 percent of the West Coast’s daily gasoline consumption of 963,000 barrels, according to Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service

Wholesale prices for fuel have already risen by 23 to 35 cents a gallon, a cost increase that will soon be passed on to consumers, said Cynthia Harris, a spokeswoman for AAA. She said it is too early to speculate about how much gas prices will increase, but the spike will be “significant.”

“We apologize for the fire and smoke caused by yesterday’s incident,” the company wrote in a statement. “Nothing is more important than safe operations and yesterday we did not meet that expectation.”