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Evacuation orders lifted, 215 Freeway reopened as officials deem leaking rail car not imminent threat

All evacuation orders were lifted Saturday morning after fire officials determined the hazardous, leaking contents of a railcar near Perris were no longer an imminent threat, authorities said.

Most residents, save for two homes, were allowed to return to their homes on Friday night.

The 215 Freeway had also reopened in both directions Friday night, but the Harley Knox off-ramps remained closed Saturday while crews continued working in the area, Cal Fire officials said.

Metrolink train service remains suspended through Sunday between the Perris South and Downtown Riverside stations, Metrolink officials said, adding that no alternate service would be provided.

The temperature of the rail car, which at one point was as high as 323 degrees, was down to 265 degrees, Cal Fire Capt. Richard Cordova said Saturday morning.

“We found there was a cooling mechanism on that train,” Cordova said. “We hooked some hoses to it and that’s how we’ve been able to cool down the rail car.”

He said the hazmat team was putting a plan together to turn over the rail car to the property owner and cleanup crew. He also said firefighters plan to work with the company to draft a document so crews can prepare themselves the next time a leak occurs.

“We were in the unknown on how to work this,” Cordova said. On Friday, Cal Fire Division Chief John Crater said the crews found themselves in “uncharted territory.”

Investigators were still probing the cause of the leak Saturday morning.

Firefighters responded to the railcar, near Oleander and Harvill avenues, after Cal Fire received calls of a large plume of smoke coming from the area, Cal Fire Division Chief John Crater said Friday morning.

A Hazmat team was sent out after firefighters noticed a leak toward the top of the rail car, Crater said. It was later determined the chemical inside was styrene, which is used to make foam and other products.

There was an estimated 138,000 pounds of the chemical inside the car, Cordova said.

Crater, while talking with experts, learned there was a possibility of an explosion, and officials evacuated everyone within a half-mile radius, which included 170 homes. Evacuation warnings were later placed for the immediate area surrounding the half-mile radius.

Officials also shut down the 215 Freeway between Ramona Expressway to the south and Cactus Avenue to the north, which brought traffic to a crawl as officials diverted drivers to side streets.

The lifting of all evacuation orders and the closure of the evacuation shelter at Pinacate Middle School came around 9 a.m. Saturday.

Source: Orange County Register

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