latest news Chemical leak closes Highway 215, prompts evacuations in Riverside County

A chemical leak from a rail car shut down Highway 215 in both directions in Riverside County and prompted the evacuation of more than 100 homes Friday morning.

The Riverside County Fire Department responded to reports of large plumes of smoke coming from a boxcar parked in the tracks near Harvill and Oleander Avenues in Perris around 7:40 p.m. Thursday, according to John Crater, Chief of Cal Fire Riverside County Division, during a press conference Friday morning. A hazmat team was deployed to the scene, he said.

A train car expelled a chemical called styrene, a highly volatile liquid typically used in plastics and rubber, he said.

Residents and businesses within a half-mile radius of the affected area were ordered to evacuate, and parts of Interstate 215 were closed as officials worked to contain the threat, Crater said. At least 170 residents were evacuated Friday morning, officials said.

“Typically the chemical stays at around 85 degrees, but it had reached at least 323 degrees. Crater called the situation serious “which may impact infrastructure in the region.”

The temperature dropped to at least 304 degrees as of 6 a.m. Friday, officials said.

Crater said he was talking to experts across the country who advised him it could take up to three days for the situation to cool down. “It could get worse before it gets better,” Crater said, adding that if heat and pressure builds up in the car, it could lead to “some kind of violent explosion.”

“We’re still in a pretty critical situation,” Crater said.

Officials cannot currently approach the wagon, “which is hot,” Carter said. The train was stopped at the time of the reported incident.

Authorities are monitoring whether outside temperatures could affect activity in the affected car as the day progresses.

According to the Riverside County Fire Department website, evacuation orders are in place for areas north of Markham Street, east of Donna Lane, south of Nandina Avenue and west of Patterson Avenue. A shelter has been set up at Pinecate Middle School for those evacuated from the immediate area.

Metrolink trains will also not be available in the evacuation zone, officials said.

215 is closed in both directions south of Van Buren and north of the Ramona Freeway.

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