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Officials with BNSF, WCSO, Ecology and WSP provide details about Custer derailment and fire

Plume visible from train derailment with fire in Custer as viewed from Bruce Road (December 22, 2020). Whatcom News

FERNDALE, Wash. — Officials with the Washington State Patrol (WSP), BNSF Railway (BNSF), Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) and the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) held a press conference in the Whatcom County Emergency Coordination Center to provide details regarding today’s railcar derailment in Custer.

WSP Trooper Heather Axtman said they were dispatched at 11:46am today, December 22nd, to reports of a train derailment in the 7500 block of Portal Way.

Details provided include:

  • the BNSF train was heading northbound after having just passed through Ferndale
  • it was traveling to the Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery
  • 108 cars made up the train, many containing Bakken crude oil
  • there were 2 crew members onboard the train
  • 7 cars derailed including 2 cars containing oil that caught fire
  • people within a half-mile radius were notified to evacuate by phone notifications and law enforcement going door-to-door
  • I-5 was closed in both directions between the Grandview Road and Birch Bay-Lynden Road interchanges for almost 2 hours since it was within the half-mile perimeter
  • the fire is still burning but is being controlled
  • investigators are not able to approach the site yet due to the fire
  • the evacuation order had not been lifted (it was announced shortly after the press conference that it had been lifted but with contingencies)
  • the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Washington State Utilities and Transportation had people at the scene to aid in the investigation
  • water was put on the fire initially to cool down the area and adjacent railroad cars
  • no structures were reported damaged
  • no people were reported injured
  • while the total impact is yet to be determined, the spill was contained locally and did not appear to impact any water bodies
  • additional air quality monitors were set up in case there was need to alert people nearby
  • none of the officials had information regarding what caused the derailment and would not until the investigation provides such
  • fire crews along with refinery personnel remain at the scene while the fire burns itself out

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