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ATF Agents Search NuStar Facility After Fire in Crockett

The blaze at NuStar Energy's Selby Terminal burned for several hours, prompted shelter-in-place orders and shut down Interstate 80 during the evening commute

In the midst of the investigation of an explosion at NuStar fuel storage facility in Contra Costa County, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, state and local agents served a search warrant at NuStar facility in Crockett Wednesday morning.

The search was first reported by NBC Bay Area's Jaxon Van Derbeken. It is unclear exactly what agents are looking for, but sources tell NBC Bay Area investigators lack confidence in the facility's records and record keeping procedures.

A fire that destroyed thousands of gallons of fuel at a Contra Costa County tank farm and trapped thousands in their homes to avoid potentially dangerous air will be investigated to determine the cause, officials said. Thom Jensen reports.

Previous to that, authorities were investigating if the earthquake that struck about 15 miles southeast from the NuStar Energy fuel storage facility in the community of Crockett 15 hours before the Tuesday fire, had anything to do with the explosion. Aftershocks in the same area were still being felt Wednesday, including one with a 3.4 magnitude.

State and local inspectors were investigating the fire that shut down the facility, which according to the company has 24 tanks capable of holding more than 3 million barrels of different kinds of fuels.

The seven-hour blaze erupted in towering, stubborn flames Tuesday afternoon at the facility in Crockett, about 30 miles northeast of downtown San Francisco.

A firefighter was injured and was treated at a hospital, said Contra Costa Fire Department spokesman Steve Hill, who had no details about the firefighter’s injuries.

During a press conference, Hill said they are no longer concerned about nearby tanks. However, fire suppression crews will remain on scene in the unlikely event fire reignites during the investigation. 

NuStar officials will also be on scene touring the area to mitigate the entire incident.

Hill confirmed that there was infrastuctural damage to some pipes due to the fire and that as safety precautions, they are monitoring the air to make sure there are no volatile emissions.

In regards to the search warrants, he said people "should not form opinions about that because this is a common practice in fire investigations of this magnitude." In addition to ATF, Hills said the agencies involved in the search warrant include California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office, Contra Costa Sheriff's Office and Contra Costa County Fire Protection District. 

Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County’s chief environmental health and hazardous materials officer, told KQED News that Tuesday’s earthquake caused malfunctions at two nearby oil refineries operated by Shell and Marathon oil.

Emergency sirens blared and a column of thick black smoke that could be seen for miles prompted Contra Costa County public health officials to order people in Crockett, neighboring Rodeo and part of Hercules to stay inside with fans and air conditioners off and to seal their windows and doors with tape or wet towels.

The concern was that hazardous particulates might be spewing from the fire

County health officials late Tuesday lifted a shelter in place order affecting about 12,000 people. But at least four schools in the area closed on Wednesday as a precaution

Aerial footage shows flames and billowing black smoke at the NuStar Refinery in the East Bay city of Crockett.

Contra Costa County health department spokesman Karl Fischer did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

The fire began at about 2 p.m. at the tank farm, one of several refining and fuel storage facilities in the Carquinez Strait, a major shipping thoroughfare and a key oil hub.

Video footage of the fire showed flames leading up to an explosion so strong it blew the lid of one of the tanks high into the air.

After a fire burned two tanks at NuStar Energy facility in Crockett, many on social media wondered if that would mean an increase in gas prices. Consumer investigator Chris Chmura reports.

The fire badly damaged or destroyed two tanks containing about 250,000 gallons of ethanol, a gasoline additive. The facility also stores gasoline, diesel and aviation fuels, according to NuStar Energy LP.

About 200 firefighters fought the flames with foam and water, trying to prevent it from spreading to other tanks containing jet fuel and ethanol. They would knock down the flames but they kept reigniting in the spilled fuel.

In a statement, NuStar confirmed operations are still suspended and all shipment of product continues to be halted. 

All NuStar personnel is safe and accounted for. 

"We would like to thank everyone who has been involved in this effort," the company said, "especially the first responders, our employees and industry partners."

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. 

Two chemical storage tanks caught fire and three others were threatened at an energy storage facility in Contra Costa County Tuesday afternoon, according to fire officials. Terry McSweeney and Cheryl Hurd report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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