Authorities canceled all evacuation orders Saturday for residents near Perris after it was determined that a hazardous and potentially explosive chemical that leaked from a rail car near a major freeway did not pose an imminent threat.
The spill at Harvill and Oleander avenues was first reported around 7:30 p.m. Thursday and led to the closure of Interstate 215 south of Van Buren Avenue and north of the Ramona Expressway, according to the Riverside County Fire Department.
Harvill Road was closed, and evacuations were ordered north of Markham Street, east of Donna Lane, south of Nandina Avenue and west of Patterson Avenue, the fire department reported.
Authorities were initially worried that the chemical could potentially explode if it were to overheat, and said roughly 170 residences and businesses were evacuated within a roughly half-mile radius of the leaking rail car.
“This could resolve itself in two days, but it could get worse before it gets better,” Cal Fire Division Chief John Crater said at a news conference Friday morning. “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 said the rail car contains roughly 188,000 pounds of styrene, a chemical used to make rubber, latex and commercial foam products. Due to the unstable nature of the chemical, authorities were unable to get near the car, and used drones to get closer looks.
By about 11:35 p.m. Friday, the unified incident commanders of what was dubbed the Oleander Incident lifted all evacuation warnings and some of the evacuation orders. Officials also determined the contents of the railcar were not an imminent threat to I-215, which was reopened in both directions.
All evacuation orders were lifted by 9 a.m. Saturday and fire officials said the evacuation shelter opened at Pinacate Middle School in Perris would be closing.
Authorities cautioned the public to avoid the area because emergency crews were still working in the area of the spill.