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Oregon town evacuated after oil train derails along scenic river

An oil train that derailed and burst into flames along Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge on Friday sent toxic smoke high into the air, prompting officials to evacuate the nearby town of Mosier.

No one was injured when 16 of the train’s 96 cars left the tracks along a scenic stretch of the recreational area, though the accident caused oil carried inside the haul to reach a section of the Columbia River, which serves as a border between Oregon and Washington.

During a press conference on Saturday, an Oregon state environmental official said a “small amount of oil” entered the river and was captured by containment booms. Mosier Fire Chief Jim Appleton said HazMat crews from Union Pacific were able to extinguish the train’s flames at about 2 a.m. local time.

The train was traveling from Tacoma, Washington, to Idaho, a route that Union Pacific trains use to transport an estimated 3 million gallons of Bakken crude oil each month — a point environmentalists have criticized, in part due to the flammability of the oil and the Columbia River Gorge’s designation as a National Scenic Area.

Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for the environmental advocacy group Columbia Riverkeeper, told the Los Angeles Times on Friday the organization is opposed to oil trains using the route because many of the local fire companies positioned along it are ill-prepared for hazardous material accidents.

“We’ve been saying, ‘It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,’” he said. “Now they’re scrambling to get foam from different places.”

Witnesses from some of the small towns dotting the train’s route described a loud series of booms that shook the ground shortly after the derailment. The cause of the accident is still under investigation.

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