Evacuation orders lifted for most in San Pablo neighborhood during hazmat investigation: Officials

ByJ.R. Stone and Anser Hassan, Lena Howland KGO logo
Friday, August 4, 2023
Evacuation orders lifted for most in San Pablo hazmat event: Officials
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San Pablo police say that hazmat technicians have removed most dangerous materials from the area after they were discovered in a home Wednesday.

SAN PABLO, Calif. (KGO) -- San Pablo police say that hazmat technicians have removed a significant amount of dangerous materials from the location in the 900 block of Stanton Avenue in San Pablo after hundreds of boxes of hazardous materials were discovered Wednesday, prompting an evacuation of the neighborhood.

San Pablo police have dropped evacuation orders for most of the neighborhood near 11th and Stanton. This comes after the neighborhood was evacuated Wednesday when hundreds of chemicals inside a shed and home were discovered.

Five homes remain under evacuation orders. Police say that more than 90% of the explosive material has been removed from the property as of late Thursday night. Crews will be back out there between 8 and 9 a.m. Friday to remove the remaining chemicals.

"The Evacuation Order for most of the remaining residents on John Avenue and Stanton Avenue has been lifted. There remains five homes which must remain evacuated until crews can return in the morning to complete the removal of hazardous materials tomorrow. The San Pablo Police Department will remain on-scene for the duration of the evacuation order and hazmat removal operation," authorities said in a statement.

Neighbors say the man who lived on the property in question, and who recently died, was very nice. They knew him for many years, and he told them he was a retired professor who specialized in chemistry.

"He was kind of a hoarder. He had pathways through his house because he collected so much stuff, ya know? I had no idea they had any of that stuff back there," said resident John Judkins.

The story below is from a previous report.

A bomb squad is continuing to investigate hundreds of boxes with several hazardous materials found Wednesday afternoon in a San Pablo backyard shed, Contra Costa fire officials said. So far, officials say, over 800 bottles have been removed from the residence.

"This is really unprecedented seeing chemicals that seem to be hoarded over a nearly 50-year period in a shed in this individual's backyard," said Supervisor John Gioia, with Contra Costa County.

Gioia said over 1,000 bottles of mostly illegal chemicals were discovered at a home in the 900 block of Stanton Avenue in San Pablo. The man who allegedly lived there was in his 80s. He died a few months ago. His brother came by to clean up the property.

VIDEO: Officials give update on San Pablo hazmat investigation that prompted neighborhood evacuations

"He was cleaning up, he soon found out that those chemicals were hazardous materials, he was advised to go ahead and call 911 to initiate the hazardous materials incident," Toler said.

The brother is cooperating with the investigation, Toler said.

"There has been some speculation in talking to the brother, or others, that he may have been a chemistry professor. But that hasn't been confirmed," said Gioia, who represents this part of San Pablo.

Law enforcement were called to the scene on Wednesday after getting a call of a gas leak. That led to a neighborhood-wide evacuation of more than 100 homes. On Wednesday, investigators said the evacuation is expected to last at least 24 hours.

"The types of hazardous material are extensive, really, to put it plainly. They range up and down our class of what we consider hazard materials: explosives, flammables, oxidizer -- things of that nature," said Captain Chris Toler with the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District.

Toler says they still haven't been to determine what chemicals were found. But he adds that many were illegally stored, and that some are motion and light sensitive.

"What that means is, if light hits that particular product or that particular liquid, it could cause a chemical reaction. And due to the improper storage, we have a lot of different chemicals stored together," explains Captain Toler.

At noon Wednesday, a shelter-in-place was ordered for a "hazmat event" and that was updated to an evacuation order from the Contra Costa County Community Warning System at 3 p.m.

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"We wanted to go and try to see if we could get our dogs out because we really don't know what the danger is," Samuel Lizarde, an evacuee said. "We just heard it's some kind of chemical spill and hazardous materials so we wanted to go in and try to retrieve them and we weren't allowed back in."

Lizarde, who has lived here for 10 years now, says he wasn't even allowed to get his two dogs and cat out when he showed up after work on Wednesday evening.

But Lizarde, along with all other neighbors still weren't allowed to get through when investigators left the scene for a six-hour window at midnight for a break, due to fatigue.

"It's a little disheartening, kind of infuriating because we're just here kind of left out of everything, and it's concerning," he said.

Still, investigators are asking for patience as they work to identify, contain, stabilize, transport and properly dispose of those materials.

"We're trying our best to work as quickly as we possibly can, we want to do it as safely as we can to get them back into their homes so we ask that they continue to be patient with us," Toler said.

Toler said once the bomb squad went in, it immediately came out and ordered the evacuation, as well as a six-block perimeter around the home.

"We want to give residents plenty of space," he said. "They have to transport the material down streets."

Thursday morning, the evacuation perimeter was reduced, meaning some of the residents who live on nearby streets were allowed home.

Denny Khamphanthong came by to check on his elderly parents' house before bringing them home.

"It feels good," Khamphanthong said about his family being able to come home, but added, "At the same time, I wish we kind of got information sooner, or at least texted to us. Because I actually didn't know there was a whole evacuation happening until I got a group messages from coworkers about the incident."

The evacuation area is between Giant Road, Miner Avenue, 11th Street and Palmer Avenue.

The Contra Costa Community College gymnasium, at 2600 Mission Bell Drive, is open to evacuees.

San Pablo police believe the chemicals have been stored at the house for years.

"Based on the degradation of the boxes and the way it was stored, it was significant amount of time, up to years even," said Captain Brian Bubar with the San Pablo Police Department.

Bubar said one reason this process is taking so long is because they have to first determine what these chemicals are - and then how to remove and dispose of them - which takes time to make sure it is done correctly.

Police say there is no indication at this time that the chemicals found were used in any weapons manufacturing or to grow drugs.

Bay City News contributed this report

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