A fire sparked by an 11-car oil train derailment near Mosier Friday afternoon is burning into the night.
The 96-unit Union Pacific train, which was hauling Bakken crude oil from Eastport, Ida., to Tacoma, Wash., derailed just west of Mosier shortly after 12 p.m. Friday, spilling oil from at least one railcar and igniting a fire along the tracks not far from the Columbia River.
One tanker was fully engulfed in flames, and several others caught fire, with smoke rising in a great black plume that was visible from Hood River, about seven miles away.
There were no deaths, injuries or structural losses reported.
Crews were preparing to open I-84 between Hood River and The Dalles at approximately 11:30 p.m. However the exit to Mosier was expected to remain closed.
Interactive map of the key locations involved in the oil train derailment and fire in Mosier.
Oil train derailment location
Oil train derailment location
Local, state and federal first responders are taking on a “cooling operation” that will likely have them working throughout the entire evening.
The agencies are working to address possible contamination from the oil spill and minimize damage to wildlands and water supplies. The area has been evacuated in a quarter-mile radius, and residents beyond that have been put on notice for possible evacuation.
Mosier School was fully evacuated, with students brought to Wahtonka Community School in The Dalles.
The American Red Cross has opened a shelter for evacuees of the train derailment scene at Dry Hollow Elementary School, 1314 E. 19th St. in The Dalles.
The derailment caused a massive traffic gridlock throughout the Columbia River Gorge. Streets in Hood River were bogged down, with cars lined up from 13th Street to Highway 35. Interstate 84 was closed down from Hood River to The Dalles, with no estimate for reopening as of Friday evening. Highway 14 on the Washington side of the river was heavily congested through the day, as was traffic on the Hood River Bridge and the Bridge of the Gods.
Hood River press conference
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown held a conference at the Port of Hood River’s conference room Friday night to brief the public on the Mosier derailment.
Brown called the incident “horrific,” but applauded the response by emergency crews.
“It’s horrific to have something like this happen anywhere, but particularly in the incredibly gorgeous Columbia Gorge. So what I was pleased to see is the first responders acting so quickly,” Brown said.
When asked by a reporter if the derailment would prompt an investigation or change in regulatory policy, Brown said, “I think that any time there’s an accident of this nature… there needs to be an investigation of the situation, and I am confident there will be.”
Dan Hammel, division chief for Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue, gave an update on the process for dealing with the oil fire.
“At this time I can tell you that we are working at removing the train cars that are not involved in the derailment and to further isolate this and moving forward with a cooling operation and then moving forward with a fire suppression operation at that point,” he said.
Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill asked that unnecessary travel through the Gorge should be avoided.
“We want to make sure that if you don’t need to be here, please don’t. Let us get stuff done, we’re working really diligently hard to do that,” Magill said.
Justin Jacobs, a Union Pacific spokesman, said the cause of the derailment was still under investigation and apologized to local residents. He also mentioned that the tanker cars attached to the train were the upgraded “1232” models. While he noted that oil from at least one railcar was leaking, he did not know if it had seeped into any local waterway.
“We apologize to the residents of Mosier, the state of Oregon and the broader Pacific Northwest Region for any inconvenience this incident may be causing,” Jacobs said.
Politicians and environmental groups respond
Several political leaders weighed in Friday, penning statements lambasting the oil-by-rail industry.
In a statement released Friday afternoon, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) called for greater protections against oil train traffic.
“It’s clear with this crash – as it has been for years – that more must be done to protect our communities from trains carrying explosive hazardous fuels,” Wyden said. “That’s why I’ve repeatedly called for more resources and notification for first responders, and why I’m continuing to push for my bill to move unsafe cars off the tracks and away from communities.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), shared a photo of the fiery railcar damage on Twitter along with the comment, “Awful. We must work to get unsafe oil train cars off the tracks to keep our communities safe.”
Local groups like Friends of the Columbia Gorge also weighed in on the issue.
“Derailments like what we just saw in Mosier confirms what Gorge communities have said all along: that oil-by-rail is unsafe,” said Peter Cornelison, Friends of the Columbia Gorge field representative and Hood River City Council member.
Fellow councilor Kate McBride said she was working, ironically enough, on doing fire reduction up at the Lyle Cherry Orchard Trail (McBride also serves as land trust manager for Friends) and saw the fire. She echoed Cornelison’s sentiments.
“For the last three or four years, we’ve been saying, ‘It’s not if, it’s when,’” she said. “And it’s now.”
Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, also responded to the derailment, stating that “catastrophic environmental risks” went hand-in-hand with the transport of fossil fuels.
“For years, the tribes have been a part of the chorus of voices telling of the danger and risks posed by fossil fuel transportation through the Columbia River Gorge,” he said. “Unfortunately today, those worries have been validated.”
The Wasco County North Central Public Health District released some useful information late Friday night for the residents of Mosier concerning evacuation and safety information.
Wasco County Emergency Manager, Juston Huffman, has established an information hotline at 541-506-2792.
As of 8 p.m., approximately 125 Mosier residents have been evacuated. The American Red Cross has set up a shelter for evacuees at Dry Hollow Elementary, 1314 E. 19th St., The Dalles, OR.
Call 888-680-1455 with questions about the shelter.
Home at Last is offering to house pets of Mosier evacuees. Call 775-430-0882.
Portable toilets have been set up in downtown Mosier due to the order to refrain from putting water down the drain (no showers, no flushing, no rinsing dishes, etc.).
A Boil Water Notice has been issued to Mosier residents until further notice.
I-84 is closed at exit 87 (The Dalles) and exit 64 (Hood River).
Citizen Alert, Wasco County’s reverse 9-11, is also sending information. To register for Citizen Alert, visit the Wasco County Web page at co.wasco.or.us.
For more information, please contact North Central Public Health District at (541) 506-2600 or visit us on the web at www.ncphd.org.) For more information on the Mosier fire, email Mosiermp70@gmail.com.
Additional editing and graphics by Ben McCarty, Eagle Newspapers Digital Media