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Chief: Expect black clouds of smoke this evening

Evacuated residents might return home tomorrow
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Fire officials say residents could be back in their homes as soon as this morning. A mandatory evacuation of 4,800 downtown homes and businesses took place following a tanker fire that started at about noon Tuesday, according to Cal Fire’s Daniel Berlant. And a Red Cross official said about 10,000 residents left their homes Tuesday. The fire took place at Northern Propane Energy, which is near the corner of Nicolaus Road and J Street. That news about possibly lifting the evacuation order was delivered during a 9:30 a.m. press conference Wednesday at the Lincoln Community Center. The center is also the location of one of three evacuation shelters set up by the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Fire crews worked Tuesday and Wednesday to prevent the tanker burning 29,000 gallons of propane from overheating, which officials said could cause pressure in the tank to rise, possibly leading to an explosion. If the tank were to explode, it could mean shrapnel traveling up to one mile and flames traveling up to half a mile from the explosion site, according to Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt. Two more overnight shelters were set up at the Kilaga Springs Lodge and Lincoln Crossing Clubhouse. During Wednesday’s press conference, Whitt said that the railroad track through Lincoln and Highway 65 continue to be closed off, and residents are asked to still evacuate their homes. Capital Region Chapter Red Cross spokeswoman Dawn Lindblom said 270 residents evacuated to the three shelters on Tuesday. “We managed to make them a safe place to stay, with food and water,” Lindblom said. On Wednesday morning, residents were allowed to register at the shelter and Placer County Animal Control officers were taking residents into the evacuated area two at a time to retrieve their pets, according to Red Cross public affairs volunteer Heath Wakelee. Pets were not allowed in the shelter but were allowed outside. “People elected to sleep in their cars with their pets,” Wakelee said. Western Placer Unified School District Superintendent Scott Leaman announced that the first day of school would be on Monday, instead of Wednesday as previously scheduled. “They are emergency days so the students won’t have to make them up,” Leaman said of the three missed school days this week. City Hall was closed as of press time Wednesday. The city of Lincoln public information officer Jill Thompson said it is unknown when it will open. And it is not known when the one-mile evacuation perimeter will shrink, according to Thompson. The Lincoln Fire Department responded to the scene shortly after the tanker caught fire Tuesday, spraying water on the tanker to cool the tank so it would not explode or spread to the other cars, according to previous News Messenger reports. “The two engines in the city were able to put a lot of water on the fire with portable monitors,” Whitt said. Lincoln received mutual aid from surrounding cities, including Loomis, Auburn, Rocklin, Roseville and the Sacramento Metro Fire Department. Lincoln Police Lt. David Ibarra said the Lincoln Police Department immediately evacuated homes after the fire started. “Because of our limited department, in the short period of time, we received assistance from the Placer County Sheriff’s Department, Rocklin Police Department and California Highway Patrol,” Ibarra said. “It’s still a mandatory evacuation. Several people refused to leave home. They weren’t forced but we highly recommended that they leave.” The Lincoln Police Department is located in the evacuation zone, according to Ibarra, so the department’s dispatch was moved Tuesday afternoon to Rocklin. Portable monitors are being used to keep five hoses spraying 5,000 gallons of water per minute on the tanker to keep it cool, which means the hoses are unmanned. Roseville Fire Chief Jeff Carman said during the press conference that the tanker fire’s temperature reached 1,200 degrees at one point. “The guys are on the ground monitoring the water flow to keep the temperature below 1,000 degrees,” Carman said. Homes and businesses were evacuated within a one-mile radius of the fiery tanker car shortly after it caught fire, according to Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt. “If you see professionals not being there, that’s a good reason not to be there,” Whitt said. “If you don’t evacuate and we have a BLEVE in a half-mile to mile radius, you’re not going to be around to talk to us.” Whitt said BLEVE stands for boiling-liquid-expanding-vapor-explosion. If that kind of explosion was to occur in this situation, Whitt said, the fire could expand to a half-mile radius and shrapnel could fly from half a mile to one mile from the explosion site. The tanker car on fire is connected to three other tanker cars, one of which is empty, according to Whitt. He estimated that, combined, the tanker cars contain at least 120,000 gallons of liquid propane. Substance-matter experts flew in from Houston on a charter jet, arriving in Lincoln around 2 a.m. Wednesday. “They got on scene and did work to stabilize it further,” Whitt said. He then explained how the Houston team will mitigate the situation. “The substance matter experts plan to offload the tanks into a safe area,” Whitt said. Crews worked, starting Wednesday morning, to bulldoze a pond next to the tanker. Whitt said the pond will be 40 by 40 feet and three feet deep. The Houston team will then drill a hole into the side of the tank and insert a hose. “They will tap into the tank with a hose and let that spill off into the pond,” Whitt said. Carman said the offloading process was expected to start at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Carman said the team would set fire to the pond, allowing the propane to burn off. “As it flows into the basin, you will continue to see a big fire and black smoke for six to seven hours,” Carman said. Whitt said the cause of the fire is currently under investigation. A Northern Propane Energy employee working on the tank at the time was sent to the hospital with injuries Tuesday. “He was starting the inspection process for offloading the tank,” Whitt said. “They take the product (from the tanker car) and store it on site.” The employee was released from the hospital on Wednesday morning and had sustained first and second degree burns, according to Whitt. No other injuries were reported, as of press time.