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Valero officials: No 'offsite concerns' nor injuries reported during refinery fire

The TCEQ and CCFD are monitoring air quality in and around the oil and gas company's west plant.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The fire at Valero's west refinery did not produce any "offsite concerns," plant officials said in a news release Wednesday afternoon. 

The release also states that no injuries were reported.

A black plume of smoke was seen in the air on Corpus Christi's Northwest side beginning at around 9:45 a.m.

Shortly after, Valero officials confirmed a fire on its property to 3NEWS.

CCFD fire chiefs -- including new department chief Brandon Wade -- made their way to the scene. While he also said no injuries had been reported to his department, one of CCFD's medic units was there as a precaution.

Wade said Wednesday morning that four CCFD trucks and one of its HAZMAT companies were outside the Valero refinery, and a command post had been established.

But because CCFD is not inside the refinery grounds, Wade did not have information as to how contained the fire is nor information as to how it started, but that CCFD is on-site to offer assistance, if needed.

"If they requested assistance, we would meet with them and then we would determine what their needs are and what they're asking of us," he said. "Currently we have not received any needs request from inside the facility."

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was on-scene performing air-quality testing as well as CCFD.

Wade said firefighters were outside the refinery to make sure neither evacuations nor shelter in place orders were needed, based on the HAZMAT company's plume modeling.  

"Smoke travels, so smoke doesn't stay where it's produced," he said. "Smoke will travel, so our goal and our job is to go out to see where the smoke is going. And then we do the air monitoring."

He said those once those assessments are complete, that if any community actions are needed, they will notify the community via avenues such as Reverse Alert and door knocks.

"Probably through a number of ways," he said.

He said there is no immediate timeline for those assessments to be complete.

Refinery Terminal Fire Company Chief Brian McDonald, whose company is responding along with Valero emergency crews, said he had no information to add to what 3NEWS already had reported at around 11 a.m. Wednesday.

As for Wade, who is on his eighth day on the job, previously worked as an assistant fire chief for the Austin Fire Department. 

He said that, although Austin doesn't have to deal with refinery fires, that it responds to large-scale incidents that are handled using the same basic principles.   

"The fundamentals of incident command, of managing large incidents -- that plays into it," he said. "It's just potentially different hazards. . . . You bring the fundamentals back down here and work off those principles to make sure the city is safe." 

Other departments also have told 3NEWS they are helping with the incident.

Corpus Christi Emergency Manager Billy Delgado said his department also is helping with monitoring air quality outside the refinery.

Down the road off Corn Products Road, Charessa Freeman works as a housekeeper at a Motel 6. She's had the job for about three months, but noticed something was different when she got to work Wednesday morning.

"I smelled more of the smell that's normally here, so I knew it was something going on. Then, when we came in, we saw all the smoke," he said.

When asked about the smoke traveling in her direction, she said she was concerned. 

"I value my lung health, so definitely. I would love to know what's going on, what type of precautions I could take, cause I have my daughter here as well," she said.

Valero provided 3NEWS with the following statement that reads: 

The safety of our workers and community is our priority and we are coordinating with state and local authorities.   

Nueces County Emergency Manager Louie Ray said his office has no details about the fire, and that it has not been asked to respond to the situation. 

Multiskilled journalist Brandon Schaff contributed to this developing story.

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