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Oil Train Derails Near Hood River


Multiple oil train cars derailed June 3, 2016, in Mosier, Oregon, near Hood River, sparking a fire in the Columbia River Gorge.

Eleven oil train cars derailed Friday afternoon in Mosier, Ore., sparking a large fire and forcing an evacuation of the surrounding area. Mosier is a small city near Hood River.

The 96-car Union Pacific train was carrying Bakken crude oil when it had an “undesired emergency application” of the brakes approximately 18 cars back from the head of the train, according to Herb Krohn, a legislative representative for the Union Pacific labor union. The crew “felt a tug” on the train, then looked back and saw smoke, Krohn said.

As of 9:30 p.m. Friday, no oil or fire suppression water reached Rock Creek or the Columbia River, according to a release from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The plan overnight was to cool the derailed cars before applying foam to suppress the fire, the release stated.

Crews are also monitoring air and water quality near the crash site.

The derailment resulted in no injuries, according to Union Pacific Railroad spokesman Aaron Hunt, though the train crew did undergo a toxicology screening.

At least one of the derailed cars spilled oil and caught fire, sending black smoke high into the sky above Interstate 84 and bringing traffic to a standstill around noon Friday. The blaze continued into the night.

Crews evacuated the area within about 1/4 mile of the crash site. Mosier Schools, located near where the derailment occurred, evacuated to the Wahtonka Community School campus in the middle of the school day, the school posted on its website.

The fire shut down I-84 westbound in The Dalles at mile post 87 and eastbound in Mosier at mile post 64. That span of interstate remains closed in both directions until further notice, according to ODOT.

Hood River County issued an air quality advisory for the area surrounding Mosier as a result of the smoke. Health officials warn air quality could reach “potentially unhealthy levels.” They have advised residents to stay indoors and avoid strenuous outdoor activity. Hood River County does not have air monitoring equipment, the advisory notes.

The Klickitat County Health Department also issued an advisory for White Salmon and Bingen, Wash., as well. White Salmon and Bingen sit on the Washington side of the Columbia River, opposite Mosier.

Chris Hooper, right, of White Salmon watches the fire caused by a derailed oil train in Mosier, Oregon, near Hood River in the Columbia River Gorge on Friday, June 3, 2016.

Chris Hooper, right, of White Salmon watches the fire caused by a derailed oil train in Mosier, Oregon, near Hood River in the Columbia River Gorge on Friday, June 3, 2016.

John Sepulvado/OPB

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement she is “closely monitoring the situation and ready to make every state resource available as needed.” Brown later invoked what is called the Emergency Conflagration Act, which frees up additional state resources to fight the fire.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called the derailment “another reminder of the risks and concerns of crude-by-rail transport in our region,” in a statement. He added, “I will continue to monitor the situation and provide support to Gov. Brown in whatever way we can.”

The Columbia Riverkeeper, an organization focused on the river’s protection, responded almost immediately to the incident. Executive Director Brett VandenHeuvel took aim at the Vancouver Energy Project in the Port of Vancouver, which, if built, would become the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the U.S.

“We’ve been saying ever since the oil trains started, it’s only a matter of time before we see a problem along the Columbia River,” VandenHeuvel said, “and it highlights the threat of bringing additional oil trains down the Columbia to the Tesoro oil facility in Vancouver.”

The exact cause of the derailment is still unclear. ODOT released the inspection report for the track where the incident occurred, which flagged a number of issues but no violations.

The derailed train was coming from Eastport, Idaho, bound for Tacoma, Wash. Multiple sources said tank cars landed in nearby Rock Creek, but officials have not found any sign of oil in the creek or the Columbia River.

Local fire departments and state and federal cleanup crews are on the scene. The Gresham Fire Department sent a hazardous materials team, and Hermiston Fire & Emergency Emergency Services also sent teams, according to Lt. Joseph Troncoso with the Portland Fire & Rescue. The Port of Portland Fire Department, which is equipped with a special type of foam used to fight oil fires, also responded.

Inspectors are on scene working to determine the cause of the derailment.

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