published on October 19, 2018 - 1:17 PM
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(AP) – Emergency crews extinguished a fire burning dangerously close to a Chevron underground natural gas pipeline Thursday and lifted an evacuation order that had forced some 4,000 residents from their homes the night before.

Contra Costa County Deputy Fire Chief Lewis Broschard told reporters that all evacuation orders were lifted as of 2:30 p.m. Thursday, about 15 hours after some 1,400 homes were evacuated near the city of Bay Point.

Broschard said officials decided quickly to issue evacuations “so we could get people out of harm’s way if there were to be a big explosion.”

At a news conference Thursday, officials hailed the operation a success, saying there were no injuries to residents or safety workers and no homes were damaged.

The underground fire began Wednesday night inside a Chevron natural gas pipeline vault, where workers access pipeline valves, about an hour after a fire crew had been called to the area and extinguished a nearby grass fire, said Terence Carey, an assistant fire chief for the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District.

Chevron emergency crews spent the night purging natural gas from the pipeline and then injected nitrogen to extinguish any remaining fire in the vault, Carey said.

Once that operation was complete, fire and Chevron officials inspected the vault to make sure there was no remaining danger so people could return home.

Carey said the vault was about 10-12 feet (3-4 meters) wide and 8 feet (2.5 meters) deep. He said Chevron officials were inspecting damage and would determine what repairs need to be made. He said he could not comment on potential disruption of services and referred questions to Chevron.

Chevron officials did not respond to repeated questions sent by email asking for details on gas disruptions to the area and how many people would be affected.

It was not clear if the grass fire caused the fire inside the pipeline vault, which Carey said was one of several questions under investigation.

KTVU-TV reported that many people slept in their parked cars at a light rail station while others parked and slept in outdoor parking lots. Evacuation centers were opened Thursday.

In 2010, a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, south of San Francisco, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes. The utility was subsequently convicted by a federal court for violating pipeline safety regulations and fined $1.6 billion.

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