The origin of the sheen is not known. Crews laid down more booms Saturday and were assessing the size of the sheen, a day after the oil-train derailment outside Mosier, Ore.
MOSIER, Ore. — The fire had been out for hours, but a sheen of oil could be seen in the confluence of a creek and the Columbia River on Saturday as responders worked to clean up after an oil-train derailment.
The derailment, which happened just after noon Friday, caused no injuries. But the toppling of 16 cars in a 96-car Union Pacific Railroad oil train bound for Tacoma stoked the debate about oil trains in the region and new facilities that would increase oil-train traffic.
“Sometimes the price of commerce is just too high to pay, and the people have to say no more,” said Kate McBride, president of the Hood River City Council at a Saturday protest rally against oil trains in that Columbia Gorge community. Dozens of people attended. Several held a banner: “Ban the Bomb Trains.”
The president of the Mosier City Council, Emily Reed, said she was in California at a business meeting when she got a text telling her that her 8-year old son’s school was being evacuated. A friend picked up her son because her husband, a volunteer firefighter, had gone to fight the ground fire, started by the derailment, that burned 10 to 15 acres.
“I am incredibly grateful. We are so lucky,” Reed said at the rally. “But it so easily could have been so different. I could have been here talking as the mom who lost her 8-year old son.”
Of the oil trains, she said, “It’s a lot of risk and I am not sure what we are getting in exchange.”
The cause of the derailment remains under investigation. Union Pacific officials noted they had inspected the track more than six times in recent months. The tanker train also had undergone an inspection just before picking up its load of crude.
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About 100 people in Mosier, some 70 miles east of Portland, remained under mandatory evacuation Saturday as a precaution. The accident, less than a half-mile from downtown — with 16 cars derailed and four igniting — caused a fiery, smoky blaze that burned for hours until crews managed to extinguish it just after 2 a.m. Saturday. Authorities Friday had said 11 cars derailed.
Air-quality tests Saturday morning showed the air had cleared of smoke.
David Byers, of the Washington State Department of Ecology, said surveys so far had detected no environmental effect from the derailment or fire.
Camille St. Onge, spokeswoman for the Department of Ecology, said efforts were focused on removing oil from the 16 cars and righting them. Union Pacific ran the undamaged cars out of town by Saturday morning.
Working with heavy equipment and with hand tools, Union Pacific crews and contractors Saturday also were repairing a damaged stretch of track.
Raquel Espinoza, a spokeswoman for Union Pacific, said the railroad had worked hard to prevent the kind of accident that occurred Friday, including training with Oregon first responders for a train derailment. She expressed the railroad’s apologies to the community, the state of Oregon and the people of the Northwest.
“This is the type of accident we work to prevent every day,” Espinoza said. “We are not leaving until everything is in order.”
Dodging a bullet
The sheen was detected in the Columbia River at the mouth of Rock Creek, and was being contained Saturday morning by absorbent boom.
“I want to stress that it was a small amount of oil, but we understand the sensitivity because of the resources in the river,” said Mike Renz, of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, at a news conference Saturday morning at a state park near Mosier. The Columbia River is home to nine runs of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead, some of which are now undertaking their migrations up and down river.
By evening, another state environmental official said there did not appear to be significant amounts of new sheen moving into the Columbia, and none of it appeared to have reached beyond what was by then a double cordon of boom.
The four cars that burned were still too hot to work around. Once they cool, the oil will be removed, Espinoza said.
To contain the fire, firefighters for eight to 10 hours Friday poured 1,500 gallons of water a minute, taken from the Columbia River and shuttled in cars full of water, to cool the three cars surrounding the one at the center of the fire, said Jim Appleton, head of Mosier’s volunteer fire department. “I think Mosier really dodged a bullet in the last 24 hours,” he said at the news conference, as he also thanked the crews.
The derailment occurred as the local cherry harvest is in full swing in the orchards outside of town.
Carol Root Seeber was in a downtown warehouse filled with the fresh-picked cherries Friday, when she heard a tremendous noise. Within minutes, she saw smoke billowing from the scene of the derailment to the west.
She shut down the warehouse and it remained closed Saturday. Root Seeber was eager to find a way to start getting her Royal Ann and Rainier cherries to market. But how? Interstate 84, which runs parallel to the train tracks, reopened late Friday, but the exit connecting Mosier to the freeway remained blocked Saturday.
“It is perishable by the day,” Root Seeber said of her crop.
Fire crews remain
Fire crews from around the region remained at the scene Saturday along with a U.S. Forest Service wild lands crew from the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.
Spencer Tejedas, a member of the crew, said they arrived early Friday afternoon and dug about 200 feet of fire line, not far from the derailment.
He said there wasn’t much fire on the ground: “It was just kind of slowly creeping.”
Other crews attacked the train fire with a constant stream of tenders that poured water on the flames. “They were leapfrogging each other one after the other,” he said. Foam was also used.
Some Mosier residents gave first responders high marks. Said Herbert Morris, a retired mechanic who has lived in the town for 40 years, “I think, all in all, they did a pretty dang good job for what they had going on.”