A hazardous spill from a railcar tank Thursday night led to 170 evacuations and the closure of both directions of the 215 Freeway near Perris Friday morning, Aug. 12, authorities said.
Cal Fire was called to the area of Oleander and Harvil avenues just past 7:40 p.m. after several people saw a large plume of smoke that ended up covering a two-mile area over Perris, Cal Fire Division Chief John Crater said at a Friday morning news conference.
A HAZMAT team responded and found the leaking chemical to be styrene, which is used to make foam products for commercial purposes, Riverside County Fire Department Captain Oscar Torres said. It’s highly flammable.
With the chemical still reacting in the rail car and gaining heat, officials evacuated homes and businesses within a half-mile radius, Crater said.
Evacuation orders were issued for an area north of Markham Street, east of Donna Lane, south of Nandina Avenue and west of Patterson Avenue. In all, 170 residences were ordered evacuated because of the spill.
“Typically, this material would stay at about 85 degrees and currently it’s at 323 degrees,” Crater said, but Torres later added it had cooled to 304 degrees and was trending in the right direction.
Crater said he talked with experts throughout the night and was told, “This could resolve itself in two days, but it could get worse before it gets better. They’ve also said due to the heat building in the car, that builds pressure and it could have a release, meaning some sort of violent explosion, that’s why we’re taking an abundance of caution with this.”
Officials shut down the 215 Freeway from the Ramona Expressway to the north, to Cactus Avenue to the south, officials said. The rail line for Metrolink was also shut down, Crater said.
A care center was opened at Pinacate Middle School for those affected by the evacuations.
Crater said the rail car is still too hot for anyone to get close to it. Officials have used drones to map the heat inside the rail car.
“This hasn’t been experienced in quite some time, it’s rare,” Crater said. “We’re kind of in uncharted territory with this, but two to three days is the time frame I received.”
What caused the leak, which was toward the top of the rail car, was not known.
City News Service contributed to this report.
Source: Orange County Register