RICHMOND (KCBS) – The head of Contra Costa County’s Hazardous Materials program said the county was not notified about the trouble at the Chevron refinery in Richmond until well after the initial incident on Monday afternoon.

A vapor leak began in the 4 Crude Unit around 4:15 p.m. Approximately two hours later, flames and thick black smoke appeared.

KCBS’ Dave Padilla Reports:

Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Chief Randy Sawyer said the community warning system was not immediately activated.

“We weren’t aware of anything until 6:40. That’s probably when the fire started,” Sawyer said. “As far as I know, we had no earlier notifications from them.”

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While still trying to gather information on the incident, Sawyer said that Chevron could be fined for improper notification. He expects a preliminary report from refinery officials by Thursday.

Sawyer said nearly 19,000 shelter-in-place calls were made to area residents.

“But some people said they didn’t get calls. We did call over 18,000 homes. That doesn’t cover everyone in the area but it covers people right around the refinery,” he said.

Three refinery workers suffered minor injuries.

All told, about 470 residents went to local hospitals complaining of respiratory problems and difficulty breathing.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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