Benicia pier fire: Bay Area car dealers worry port closure will delay vehicle deliveries

BENICIA, Calif. (KGO) -- A major shipping port in the East Bay remains closed, after a four-alarm fire heavily damaged part of the dock over the weekend. It happened at the Port of Benicia, experts say the closure could have real economic impacts for us.

Engineers were still assessing the all the damage at the Port of Benicia on Monday, 48 hours after a four-alarm blaze tore through wooden timbers underneath the dock, stretching 200 yards. The massive fire began Saturday afternoon and was finally contained Sunday morning. A cause to the fire is still under investigation, according to Benicia fire chief, Josh Chadwick.



The biggest concern is the environment. A boom was placed in the water to capture debris and oil.

"We were advised by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, they observed no detriment to fish and habitat, good news," said Benicia Deputy City Manager Mario Giuliani.

Environmental watchdog group, San Francisco Baykeeper is doing its own investigation.

"But obviously no amount of petroleum product is acceptable to wind up in the water," said Baykeeper's Cole Burchiel.

VIDEO: Benicia port fire damage could impact Bay Area gas prices, city official says
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Benicia's deputy city manager says if the port is out of commission with trouble bringing in crude to the refinery, gas prices could possibly spike.



Operations at the port have been halted. The facility is used to by Valero Benicia Refinery, which processes crude into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. Energy experts say even a small disruption could have economic impacts at the pump.

"They produce a lot of gas and diesel if they were to lose operation of that refinery, that would be a big hit to California market, I'd expect prices to shoot up farther just as they were starting to come down," said Professor Severin Borenstein from the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business.

The port is also a major import hub for Toyota cars and trucks. Several dealers told us off camera, they're concerned delivery delays might add to ongoing supply chain headaches.

A Toyota spokesperson told ABC7 News in a statement:

"We continue to get regular updates from port officials and are optimistic that we will be able to resume off loading vehicles soon at the berth where the fire occurred, or will use another one at the port. Our teams continue to work, day and night to get vehicles to our dealers across the country and ultimately into our customers hands."

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In 2001, ABC7 News covered a fire at the very same dock at the port, fire officials say, that fire was likely caused by a illegal campfire onshore. As a result, the port was closed for several months after that fire.

In a statement, a Valero Benicia Refinery spokesperson said:

"Valero continues to work closely with the city of Benicia and Amports to assess port infrastructure and is cooperating with local, state and federal agencies."

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