Evacuations ordered as train carrying crude oil derails, burns near CusterBellingham Herald, by Denver Pratt, December 22, 2020
A train derailed and caught fire in the Custer area Tuesday morning and residents and visitors within a half-mile were being evacuated, according to Whatcom County Public Works, the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and Washington State Patrol.
The northbound train carrying crude oil derailed around 11:40 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 22, in the Custer area, according to Courtney Wallace, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesperson, and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office. It is a BNSF train and track, Wallace said.
The train derailed near the 7500 block of Portal Way, according to the sheriff’s office on Twitter. The sheriff’s office evacuated people within a half-mile of the derailment. Shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday, the sheriff’s office said on Twitter that the evacuation order was lifted for local residents of Custer. Once residents return home, they are asked to shelter in place and stay inside, the sheriff’s office said. Residents must show proof of residency in order to return home, the sheriff’s office said.
Roadblocks in the area will remain in place.
Seven railway cars derailed from the train and a fire started in two of the seven derailed cars, the sheriff’s office said. The fire was under control as of 3 p.m., but a few were still active as of 5 p.m., the sheriff’s office said.
There have been no reported injuries at this time, Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management Deputy Director John Gargett told The Bellingham Herald about 2 p.m. Tuesday.
Gargett said it’s unclear at this time whether there was damage to nearby structures or buildings. While he didn’t know the exact number of people who were evacuated, he said evacuations were ordered within a half-mile around the center of Custer.
He said the train was carrying Bakken crude oil, so evacuations were ordered out of an abundance of caution. People are asked to avoid the incident site, as it’s not safe to approach, the sheriff’s office said.
BNSF has set up a claims hotline for people who have been impacted by the evacuation at 1-866-243-4784.
We are working to evacuate a 1/2 mile radius from the site of the derailment. Train cars are on fire. I-5 is closed in both directions from Grandview to Birch Bay Lynden Rd. Train cars are on fire.
AGAIN, PLEASE AVOID THE AREA. pic.twitter.com/OuqC5NAuoE
— Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (@whatcomsheriff) December 22, 2020
Wallace, with BNSF, said the first priority is safety issues and BNSF is working with local authorities to assess and mitigate the situation.
She said the cause of the derailment is under investigation.
“Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by this incident,” BNSF said on Twitter.
Washington State Patrol Trooper Heather Axtman said there were still a few small pools of oil on fire as of 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday. Axtman said fire officials determined the fires would burn themselves out in a little while. Axtman said at this time it’s believed there was no damage to nearby structures from the derailment.