An automated phone message sent out by Contra Costa Health Services stated that there has been an emergency at the refinery.
"Go inside. Close all windows and doors," the message stated.
It advised residents to turn off heaters, air conditioners and fans, and to cover cracks around doors with tape or damp towels. Residents are being urged to stay off the phone to keep the line free for further alerts.
The fire was reported around 6:40 p.m., said Randy Sawyer, the chief environmental and hazardous materials officer for Contra Costa Health Services.
Some BART stations were closed because of the emergency. As of 10 p.m., the Richmond remained closed.
Richmond Fire Chief Michael Banks said around 7:50 p.m. that the three-alarm fire was still burning.
"It's still going pretty good," he said.
He said the Richmond Fire Department is assisting Chevron firefighters, and that a plume of smoke is still rising into the air.
"The cloud is fairly high up, so that's a good thing," he said around 7:45 p.m. "It's definitely heading east toward the hills."
Banks said there were reports of explosions around the time the fire started. He advised residents to stay put and stay tuned.
"Stay inside, watch it on the news, and that's the best thing to do," Banks said.
Frederick Hamilton, 51, was waiting out the fire at his home on Henry Clark Lane in North Richmond near the refinery this evening. He had a headache and was coughing, and said the air was filled with a chemical odor.
"You can smell it," he said. "I was out there in it."
He was watching the news on TV and said he had closed all of the doors and windows in his home, and had plugged the cracks in the doors as instructed.
However, he said the air quality wasn't getting any better, and said his wife had developed a "severe" headache.
Hamilton coughed as he answered questions over the phone.
"This stuff is crazy," he said to someone in the background.
Joe Darling, who worked at the Chevron refinery for more than 27 years, was watching news coverage of the fire from his home on Cottage Avenue this evening.
He said he wasn't aware of the fire until his friend called and told him to turn on the TV.
Darling said he had received the automated call from Contra Costa Health Services warning him to stay indoors.
He said the smoke was rising into the air and didn't appear to be settling in his neighborhood, located across Interstate Highway 580 from the refinery.
A resident of San Rafael reported being able to smell the smoke from across the Bay.
Chevron released a statement saying:
The fire started at the refinery's "4 Crude Unit" at 6:15 p.m. today, according to the statement.
All Chevron employees have been accounted for and there are no injuries, company officials said.
"We have comprehensive plans and procedures in place to respond to situations like the one we are facing," the statement read. "We are working with all appropriate local authorities."
Chevron declined to "speculate on the cause" of the incident.
"Our priority right now is containing the fire and protecting the health and safety of our employees and the community," the statement read.
No tolls on Richmond-San Rafael Bridge
Cash-paying motorists crossing the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge tonight are not being charged a toll, according to the California Highway Patrol.
A Caltrans spokesman was not immediately available for comment, but a CHP officer said toll takers are sheltering in place at the toll plaza office because of the fire burning at the nearby Chevron refinery.
He said cash-paying motorists are able to pass through the toll plaza without paying, but that drivers with FasTrak might still be charged.
Smoke advisory for Oakland Hills
Oakland police are warning residents that a community advisory has been issued for the North Oakland hills because of the fire that is burning at the Chevron refinery in Richmond. The fire has created a large plume of smoke, which is heading toward the hills, police said around 8 p.m.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune were preempted due to the breaking news coverage on ABC7 News. The Jeopardy show that would have run at 7 p.m. will re-air in its entirety early Tuesday morning at 1:40 a.m. and the Wheel of Fortune show that would have aired at 7:30 p.m. will air at 2:10 a.m. Tuesday morning.