Evacuation orders remained in effect for more than 100 homes in Perris Friday evening due to a leaking chemical from a railroad tank car that posed the risk of an explosion.
The 215 Freeway was also closed in both directions.
A hazmat team responded to Harvill and Old Oleander avenues after a large plume from the tank car was reported just before 7:45 p.m. Thursday, Cal Fire Division Chief John Crater said during a news conference Friday morning.
Wind gusts helped spread the initial plume until it covered a two-mile area over the city of Perris, Crater said.
The leaking chemical in the tank was identified as styrene, which is used to make foam products for commercial purposes.
Crater consulted with experts who told him that heat building in the railcar could still cause a release.
“Meaning some sort of violent explosion,” Crater said. “We’re still in a pretty critical situation.”
“Typically, this material would stay at about 85 degrees and currently it is at 323 degrees … it is a serious incident that can impact the infrastructure in the area.”
Riverside County Fire Department Captain Oscar Torres later indicated the temperatures had cooled slightly, to 304 degrees, and was trending in a positive direction.
“We are hoping that trend continues,” Torres said, though he noted on Friday afternoon that the reduction in temperatures was “not significant enough where we can still intervene anything.”
“So at this point, we are trending in a way we want to go, but it’s still too dangerous to have any mitigation efforts take place,” Torres said.
In the meantime, the temperature is being tracked by drones fitted with infrared equipment, said Mark Scoville of the RCFD.
“Currently, we are doing an overhead evaluation using our drones for temperature-related items to ensure that the tank itself is staying at a static temperature,” he said.
Authorities believe the situation could take two or three days to resolve, barring an explosion.
Evacuations were ordered for a half-mile radius around the tank car, for the area north of Markham Street, east of Donna Lane, south of Nandina Avenue, and west of Patterson Ave. in the city of Perris.
At 1 p.m. Cal Fire announced evacuation warnings for areas south of Avenue A, east of Day Street, north of Cajalco Expressway and west of Heackock Street. A map showing the evacuation zone and the evacuation warning areas can be found here.
A care and reception center was established at Pinacate Middle School.
The 215 Freeway was closed from Cactus Avenue in Moreno Valley to the Ramona Expressway in Perris.
Drivers headed southbound on 215 were instructed to exit at Cactus Avenue and head east to Perris Boulevard, go south on Perris Boulevard to the Ramona Expressway. Then head westbound back to the 215 Freeway.
Drivers headed northbound were instructed to exit at Ramona Expressway and head east to Perris Boulevard, go north on Perris Boulevard to Cactus Avenue. Then head westbound back to the 215 Freeway.
Metrolink service was also halted in the area.
A road closure was also in place on Harvill Avenue between Harley Knox Boulevard and Cajalco Expressway.
Check back for updates on this developing story.