RICHMOND -- An Oakland-based attorney says he has more than 3,000 signed-on seeking legal action against Chevron stemming from a fire at the oil company's local refinery on Aug. 6.

"This fire was preventable," Burris told about 150 people who gathered in the parking lot of Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Saturday.

"We are trying to bring as many people into the fold as we can," Burris said, referring to a possible expansion of the lawsuit he filed against Chevron on Aug. 15, claiming "gross negligence" on behalf of nine local residents who say they have respiratory injuries.

Dubbed the "Know Your Rights Community Rally," the gathering on Saturday included free health screenings and legal advice for more than 100 people.

Matthew Kumin of Kumin Sommers LLP, one of two law firms joining Burris, said the lawyers have not decided whether to pursue a class-action suit against Chevron.

Both Kumin and Burris said that the most important goal is to force safety and diagnostic reforms at the refinery, including the installation of air monitors around the city. In the aftermath of the Aug. 6 fire, which injured four refinery workers and sent black smoke across the East Bay, scant data was gathered on the level of airborne toxins due to a lack of community air monitors.

Mt. Zion Baptist Church's the Rev. Ulis Redic told those gathered that Chevron was not an "enemy" in the community and that the fire be a cause for positive change.


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"We are here today to help Chevron be better," Redic said.

The suit filed in Contra Costa Superior Court on Aug. 15 seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages to the plaintiffs.

Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie said last week that it would evaluate legal claims as they come in.

"When we receive lawsuits, we will review each case based on the merits of their claim and handle as appropriate through the legal process," Ritchie said.

Within days of the fire, Chevron opened a claims center at the Nevin Park Community Center and a 24-hour claims hotline to compensate residents who suffered financial losses as a result of the fire.

More than 14,000 people have visited area hospitals since the fire, county health officials have said. More than 10,000 have filed claims with Chevron, according to Ritchie.

The fire occurred when an 8-inch pipe in the No. 4 crude unit of the refinery sprung a leak, resulting in a vapor cloud that ignited just after workers evacuated. Federal investigators are focused on maintenance decisions made last fall that kept the pipe in service.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers