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Structural engineers on Monday determined the damaged crude unit that was the site of the fire in the facility was too hazardous to enter. The 8-inch pipe leaked and its contents ignited, sending black smoke into the sky above Richmond, Calif., and thousands of nearby residents to hospitals with complaints of eye irritation and breathing difficulty.

Investigators were discussing plans on how to make the unit safe so the faulty pipe could be removed for testing, said Hillary Cohen, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

The Aug. 6 conflagration destroyed an area of the refinery that produces a large amount of the gasoline that satisfies California’s clean-air regulations, which are the toughest in the nation. Other parts of the refinery, which supplies 16 percent of California’s daily gas consumption, are still producing fuels.

But the refinery’s reduced output has sent state gas prices rising higher than normal, analyst said. The average price for a gallon of regular on Monday in California was $4.07, up from $3.86 on Aug. 7.

From wire dispatches and staff reports