ConocoPhillips tries to shut down refinery

RODEO, Calif.

The refinery was working on shutting down all day and late Friday night the flame started to die down. By 11 p.m. they downgraded the threat level from a 2 to a level 1, meaning any impact from the burning flame should be felt onsite only, not in the neighborhoods. However, the flames still caused quite a scare.

When the giant fireball first appeared in Rodeo Friday morning, residents thought their neighborhood was burning.

"It looked like a giant volcano. If you didn't know any better, you would have swore the apartment building at the top of the hill was on fire," said Rodeo resident Cynthia Nieto.

This fire is actually burning on purpose. The ConocoPhillips refinery had to shut down the plant because of a system failure; they're burning processed gas as a safety measure.

"The gas is under pressure in the process units so it has to have, when you lose steam and power, it has to have someplace to go," said refinery spokesman Mark Hughes.

But there are concerns about what this is doing to air quality. Officials from several different agencies are monitoring air samples and have decided to issue a level 2 warning, advising people with breathing problems to stay inside.

"I'm pregnant so it's not good," said resident Rashawn Clark.

However, Clark says she was tired of being cooped up inside, she had to go outside.

"It's hot inside. I don't really want to be inside. There's no pollution, like you don't smell anything right now, but earlier in the day I was inside the house when it smelled like lighter fluid," said Clark.

Kids were also outside playing on Friday night. One man says if people couldn't see the flames, they might not have known about it. The refinery did not send out any type of announcement.

"The only thing I seen was on TV. That's it. That a refinery was burning some extra stuff and for people to stay inside," said resident Julio Medrano.

"I would like to express my apologies to the community though. Just the visible flare just by its nature is an imposition on the community and causes alarm and for that we're truly sorry," said Hughes.

"It's the refinery. We choose to live here so what can we say. They burn whatever they burn," said Nieto.

Several agencies have been monitoring the air and officials say they haven't found any harmful toxins in the air so the warning has been lifted and people can go outside.

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