Oregon train derailment spills oil, sparks fire

The call came in just before noon

An aerial view of an oil train derailment in Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge, June 3, 2016 (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — An oil train derailed on Friday near the Columbia River Gorge town of Mosier.

Aaron Hunt with Union Pacific Railroad said 11 of the cars derailed; oil spilled from at least 1 car and caught fire, and was still burning into the afternoon.

The 96-car train was carrying Bakken crude oil to Tacoma, from Eastport, Idaho. Bakken crude is known for being highly volatile. A train that size weighs 13,000 tons and is 6,200 feet long, according to sources. No one was injured.

An aerial view of the smoke and fire from an oil train derailment in Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge, June 3, 2016 (KOIN)
An aerial view of the smoke and fire from an oil train derailment in Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge, June 3, 2016 (KOIN)

Silas Bleakley was working at his restaurant in Mosier when the train derailed. “You could feel it through the ground. It was more of a feeling than a noise,” he said as smoke continued to billow from the tankers.

Bleakley said he went outside, saw the smoke and got in his truck and drove about 2,000 feet to a bridge that crosses the railroad tracks. There, he said he saw tanker cars “accordioned” across the tracks.

Another witness, Brian Shurton, was driving in Mosier and watching the train as it passed by the town when he heard a tremendous noise. “All of a sudden, I heard ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!’ like dominoes,” he said.

An aerial view of an oil train derailment in Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge, June 3, 2016 (KOIN)
An aerial view of an oil train derailment in Mosier in the Columbia River Gorge, June 3, 2016 (KOIN)

He, too, drove to the bridge overpass to look down and saw the cars flipped over before a fire started in one of the cars and he called 911, he said. “The train wasn’t going very fast. It would have been worse if it had been faster,” said Shurton, who runs a windsurfing business in nearby Hood River.

Smoke could be seen from a nearby weather skycam and from the KOIN 6 web cam at Skamania Lodge.

The Oregon Department of Transportation closed I-84 between Cascade Locks and The Dalles. Traffic was detour to Washington SR 14.

Traffic is snarled on I-84 due to a train derailment, June 3, 2016 (KOIN)
Traffic is snarled on I-84 due to a train derailment, June 3, 2016 (KOIN)

About 200 students at Mosier Elementary School were evacuated and transported to Wahtonka High School, according to school officials.

At Horizon Christian school in Hood River, buses aren’t being sent to pick kids up. Students are being held at the school until the situation improves.

An Air Quality Alert was issued for Hood River, Bingen, White Salmon and the surrounding areas because of the smoke. People with respiratory issues like asthma or lung disease were encouraged to stay indoors.

The Federal Railroad Administration said investigators were on scene. Portland Airport Fire & Rescue was also headed to the Gorge to supply aid. They took a specialized truck that carries about 1,300 gallons of fire suppression foam.

The U.S. Coast Guard flew a helicopter over the scene to assess environmental damage. NTSB investigators gathered information but didn’t launch a team. Gresham Fire sent its hazmat team.

The Washington Department of Ecology had crews on the scene and said they did not see signs of oil in the river.

Governor Kate Brown released a statement saying she is “grateful to local first responders, HazMat teams, and other state agencies for doing their best to keep the community of Mosier safe.”

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