The Port of Benicia, a small, privately operated port in the San Francisco Bay area, was devastated by a four-alarm fire in April.
The port, which is operated by Amports, a Maryland-based auto processing company, saw the blaze erupt in the early afternoon of Saturday, April 9, according to the City of Benicia, in the 1000 block of Bayshore Boulevard, next to the Amports port terminal. Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick said that when fire crews arrived, the blaze was burning upward from a conveyer belt toward a docked tanker ship.
“While responding, we received updates that the fire (was) near the petroleum coke silos,” Chadwick explained, adding that a portion of the fire was on the underside of the pier structure, which is made of large creosote-coated timber and covered by thick asphalt road surface.
“The biggest potential threat to the community was air quality. The smoke emitting from the fire contained particulate matter and the potential of toxicity from chemicals,” Chadwick said. “We were fortunate in having continuous wind blowing from the west, allowing the smoke to blow towards the water and dissipate before impacting other populated areas.”
Despite fears that the blaze could burn for days, fire responders managed to extinguish it in about 24 hours, according to Benicia Fire. Crews later investigated the cause and conducted damage assessment, according to Benicia city officials.
“(Benicia refinery operator) Valero and Amports are conducting engineering assessments and creating reports for submittal to the U.S. Coast Guard, California State Lands Commission and the City of Benicia for review and approval,” the City of Benicia said in an April 11 statement.
“Once the reports are approved, operations can begin again for vehicle and crude (oil) unloading. The terminal for petcoke (petroleum coke) is out of commission,” the statement continued. “Please note that there are multiple terminals on the dock and it was the terminal for petcoke that was damaged during the fire.”
Dredging and marine construction company the Dutra Group was retained on site to collect debris and temporarily placed a 1,300-foot boom in the water to contain rubble. However, California Fish & Wildlife did not initially identify any harm to fish or habitat, according to the City of Benicia officials.
In the fire’s aftermath, Benicia staff said that the city planned to work with Valero and Amports to aid in evaluating the integrity of the port’s infrastructure, determine operational capacity and make preparations for repairs and reconstruction.
At the publication time of this magazine, the Solano County Fire Investigation Unit was still working to determine the blaze’s cause and origin.