RICHMOND -- A mysterious gas odor that sent workers scrambling, residents sheltering and fire crews racing all over the city Tuesday didn't emanate from the city at all, according to Pacific Gas & Electric and city fire officials.

It wafted from San Pablo Bay.

"We learned that this gas smell isn't PG&E-related," Roxanne Cruz, PG&E's government relations chief for the East Bay, wrote in an email to city, county and Chevron officials Monday night. "A barge turning on its turbine getting ready to pull a tugboat caused a smell that traveled for several miles off the water."

Richmond fire Chief Michael Banks, who on Tuesday reported that his department fielded roughly 100 calls from all over the city reporting gas leaks, said Wednesday he wasn't sure but thought the barge may have burned its engine and released the pungent odor.

"It's a first for me, something like this creating such response," said Banks, who has worked in Richmond for 34 years. "The odor was particularly strong."

The odor was first detected in Point Richmond, but reports came in from North Richmond, the Iron Triangle and along San Pablo Avenue, swamping the city's emergency call center, officials said.

Tony Rives, a worker on the Golden Gate Ferry, said he was nearby when he saw what looked like a disabled tanker near East Brother Light Station, just off the shore from Point San Pablo.


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"The smell was real heavy, to the point of burning eyes and nausea," Rives said.

Staff Writer Chris Treadway contributed to this report. Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/SFBaynewsrogers.