News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Tanker fire disrupts Sisters

Right about midnight on Saturday, July 29, a vehicle northbound on Cloverdale Road came through the intersection and collided with a westbound gasoline tanker truck on Highway 126.

The truck carried a 5,000-gallon tank, with another 6,000-gallon tank in tow on a trailer.

“When the crew arrived, they found the (rear trailer) tires were on fire and impinging on the tank,” Cloverdale Fire District Chief Thad Olsen told The Nugget.

Firefighters hoped to attack the fire before the tank went up. However, Olsen reported, “as soon as they deployed the hoses, the tank breached.”

The result was a spectacular fire that posed significant challenges.

“We had probably at least 100-foot flames when I arrived,” Chief Olsen said. “It’s one of those things that you train for, that you talk about — and hope it never happens.”

With one tank burning and another poised to go, Olsen said his priority was to get the two tanks separated.

“We separated the trailer from the truck and got it (the truck) away,” he said.

Chief Olsen praised the truck driver for his actions.

“Got to hand it to the driver of the tanker, because he did an excellent job of getting it stopped,” he said.

Because of where the driver got the truck stopped, there was minimal spread to adjacent land, and firefighters were able to quickly douse small spot fires. The main fire, however, was a significant one, and it had major knock-on effects.

“We had direct flame impingement on the power line,” Chief Olsen said.

That knocked out power, and Internet cable was also taken out by the fire. Power was restored after about four hours. Internet and cell phone service would be out or significantly disrupted in Sisters through Sunday. That had a chilling effect on commerce, as retailers and restaurants were unable to process credit/debit card transactions (see related story,

page 3).

Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting units were deployed from Redmond, and deployed fire-suppressing foam at the scene. A Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District ambulance transported the driver of the passenger vehicle to the hospital with unknown injuries. The truck driver was unhurt, and Olsen said there were no injuries to firefighters or other first responders.

“It could have been so different, though,” he said.

While the tank breached and there was significant fire, there was no massive boiling liquid/vapor explosion.

“It’s our biggest fear in the fire department, having one of those tanks explode,” Olsen said.

He was also grateful that the incident occurred adjacent to irrigated hay fields instead of on tree-lined highway, where there would have very likely been a forest fire.

Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office, Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District, Redmond Fire, ODOT, Oregon State Police, Central Electric Cooperative, and several other utility providers all responded to the scene, and a haz-mat company from Prineville was summoned for clean-up. Work continued on the closed highway through Sunday.

The incident reminds emergency personnel and citizens alike that a major incident can occur at any time, even in a quiet rural area in the dead of night.

“It was definitely an adrenaline-filled night,” Chief Olsen said.

Editor’s note: The Nugget will provide ongoing coverage of this incident and some of the questions it raises in subsequent editions.


The front page photo accompanying the story in the print edition (The Nugget, August 2) was credited incorrectly. The photo was taken by Joel Tonneson.


Reader Comments(1)

35470 writes:

Would be interested to know what was the issue with driver? Was she/he drunk? Night vision problems? I mean how can miss a big truck in the road? Thanks for your reporting it was hard to be in the dark for so long and not know what was happening. We are so dependent on the internet and cell service now. Leaves you wondering about safety issues.

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