Toxic fumes are lingering and neighbors are being told to shelter in place Wednesday after an oil train derailed and caught fire Tuesday in the town of Custer in Whatcom County.
Washington State Patrol Trooper Heather Axtman said the derailment happened in the 7500 block of Portal Way in Custer at about 11:40 a.m. Both directions of I-5 in Whatcom County were closed but reopened after 2 p.m.
Just after noon, troopers then received reports that the train, which was carrying crude oil, was on fire.
Video from a Department of Transportation camera showed a large smoke plume in the air.
Residents and visitors within a half-mile radius were told to evacuate because the air in the area was extremely toxic.
Before 5 p.m., the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office lifted the evacuation order for Custer residents.
“Residents must show proof of residency to return. Once home, residents are asked to shelter in place and stay inside,” the Sheriff’s Office said.
During a news conference, Courtney Wallace BNSF Railway said two people were on board and Axtman said no injuries were reported.
(Watch the Tuesday afternoon news conference at the bottom of this story.)
The National Transportation Safety Board said it would focus on tank car performance during it’s investigation.
Deputies said it’s too early to say what caused the derailment, but acknowledged the arrests last month of two women accused for placing a “shunt” on railroad tracks just outside of Bellingham.
Investigators said since January, there have been 41 incidents involving shunts placed on BNSF tracks in Whatcom and Skagit counties that are believed to be attempts to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline across British Columbia.
Such oil trains, which pass by the stadiums and through a tunnel beneath downtown Seattle, have been in the spotlight before, including several years ago when a Union Pacific oil train derailed in Oregon.
Anyone with more information on the derailment is asked to call the BNSF Railway’s hotline number at 1-866-243-4784.
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