PERRIS (CNS) - Fire officials Saturday are continuing to monitor a rail car that, for unknown reasons, began leaking a hazardous chemical that could potentially explode if the material overheats, which resulted in hundreds of evacuations and the closure of the 215 Freeway.
Evacuation orders east of the 215 Freeway have since been lifted and the evacuation warning has been lifted in its entirety, the Riverside County Fire Authority said Friday. The evacuation orders for the area west of the 215 Freeway remain in place and a care and reception site at Pinacate Middle School, 1990 S. A St., in Perris, is open.
It has also been determined that the rail car's contents are not an imminent threat to the freeway and it has reopened in both directions although the Harley Knox off-ramps will remain closed, according to fire officials.
Authorities said the situation could extend for as many as three days due to the hazardous nature of the styrene chemical in the damaged rail car.
The spill at Harvill and Oleander avenues was first reported around 7:30 p.m. Thursday and led to the closure of the 215 Freeway south of Van Buren and north of Ramona Expressway.
Harvill Road was closed, and evacuations were ordered in an area north of Markham Street, east of Donna Lane, south of Nandina Avenue and west of Patterson Avenue, the fire department reported.
Roughly 170 residences and businesses were evacuated within a roughly half-mile radius of the leaking rail car, authorities said.
"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."
Saturday's high in Perris is forecast to be 100.
On the flip side, if the rail car begins to cool, it will mitigate the explosion risk. However, that process could take days.
"Once we start seeing that that rail car is actually cooling, what that tells us is the chemical reaction that's happening in that car is actually now starting to solidify, which is the trend we want to see happening," county Fire Department Capt. Oscar Torres said.
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 are unable to get near the car, and have been using drones to get a closer look.
Metrolink service on the 91/Perris Valley line has also been interrupted through the area, with the tracks closed between the Perris- Downtown and Moreno Valley/March Field stations. Service will remain disrupted until the situation is resolved.