Evacuation orders lifted after Chevron pipeline fire

- Evacuation orders have been lifted in Bay Point in unincorporated Contra Costa County following a fire at a utility vault above a Chevron natural gas pipeline that started Wednesday night, according to the Contra Costa Fire Protection District officials.

The fire is out and the area is deemed safe, according to Contra Costa County Fire. 

Around 4,000 people were evacuated from 1,400 homes in Bay Point.

"It was scary," said Willie Green on Thursday morning. He was woken up and told he had to get out of his house. He tried to find a hotel in Concord but they were all booked, so he found an evacuation center to spend the night instead. 

Willow Cove Elementary School in Pittsburg was also closed Thursday. Amtrak lines on the San Joaquin Line were running an  hour behind and Capitol Corridor trains were running about 20 minutes late early Thursday morning. For a while, until about 6:30 a.m. the southeast corner of the BART Pittsburg/Bay Point station was used as an evacuation center. Many families spent the night in the parking lot, sleeping in their cars. "I'm cold," George Perez of Bay Point said. "I've been here since 12:30 in the morning. I feel like nobody's giving us answers." 

At a Thursday news conference, officials said they hoped residents could return home by 10 a.m. But that deadline passed and officials said they really didn't know when residents could return home.

The initial grass fire broke out Wednesday at 5:49 p.m. and was contained at 6:17 p.m. said Contra Costa County Fire District spokesman Steve Hill.

But as crews were fighting the grass fire, they noticed another "glow," Hill said. Crews were called back to look at that fire about an hour later.

Turns out, that glow was coming from another fire at Chevron's vault - which may have been sparked by a fallen power line in the vicinity of Poinsettia and Suisun avenues, Hill said. The vault fire was most likely a result of a small, broken gas line inside the vault owned by Chevron.

PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian said that people started calling about 5 p.m. on Wednesday to say that birds might have come into contact with the overhead power lines, causing a wire to come down, triggering the initial vegetation fire. She said the downed wires may have been near the Chevron incident. SkyFox flew overhead on Thursday afternoon and spotted at least two dead birds below a utility pole with charred grass nearby as PG&E crews inspected the damage.

It's not clear if the grass fire and the pipeline fire are connected other than that they both occurred near to each other.

The line affected by the blaze had been isolated from the rest of the pipelines, Hill said. 

Hill said the department is working on getting a drone over the vault to check on the pipeline. 

Chevron released a statement early Thursday morning saying the company immediately shut down the line after the fire was reported and was working with fire officials and the California Office of the State Fire Marshal to evacuate residents. A Chevron spokesman said on Thursday morning that there was no threat of an explosion.

Aside from the BART station, the Red Cross set up an evacuation center at Calvary Temple Church at 4725 Evora Road in Concord. Pastor Jason Morgan said about 250 people were there, 150 inside the church and couple hundred in the parking lot so that they could stay with their animals. The Red Cross also set up a third shelter at Los Medonos College.

There were no reports of injuries. The official cause of the fire is under investigation.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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