Firefighting foam deployed in crash


Last updated 8/29/2023 at 4:04pm

Photo by Bill Bartlett

Firefighting foam left residue on Highway 126 after putting out a gas tanker fire.

Last week's fire of a fully loaded fuel tanker truck headed for the Space Age station in Sisters was brought under control by the quick actions of the driver, neighbors, Cloverdale Rural Fire Protection District and a specially equipped fire engine stationed at Redmond airport.

The tanker truck was carrying 11,200 gallons of diesel and regular unleaded gas in its two tanks. Each tank has three cells to separate fuel types. Only one cell was breached when a passenger car drove through the stop sign at Cloverdale Road and Highway 126 colliding with the rear end of the truck so severely that it disabled its rear axle.

The truck driver, sensing the danger of igniting trees, deftly moved the rig about 100 yards and got it off the road, sandwiched between the highway and the fence of a hay field. The fire did not start upon impact but minutes later as fire crews were positioning.

The decision was made to bring in Redmond Fire and Rescue, who deployed foam to extinguish the flames. The foam - F3 (flourine-free foam) - is made of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of manufactured chemicals that have been used in industry and consumer products since the 1940s.

Many organizations worldwide mandate the use of firefighting foam that contains PFAS, known as aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), because of its effectiveness in fighting aircraft fires. However, per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), certain PFAS can cause serious health problems, including cancer, if people are exposed to them over a long period of time, and they can also be harmful to aquatic and terrestrial organisms.

Some Cloverdale residents became alarmed upon learning of the foam's use, concerned that it got into the groundwater. The vicinity is abundant with high-value livestock like alpacas, cattle, and sheep, as well as high-end hay and orchard grass.

Chief Thad Olsen of Cloverdale Fire District told The Nugget that 2,800 gallons of fuel was burned. Had the entire 11,200 gallon load ignited the fire could have been catastrophic.

"It's now a DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) matter," Olsen said. "Fortunately the ground there is hard and compact and it doesn't appear that the foam seeped deep into the ground."

Still, some neighbors are worried.

Spokesperson Lauren Wirtis of the DEQ told The Nugget, "We will be taking core samples Wednesday and evaluate them before crews are sent in to scrape and remove any remaining product, most of which is already gone. There is no fuel residue as it was consumed in the fire."

SMAF Environmental in Prineville was tasked with the removal. Oregon Department of Transportation has already repaved a 30- to 40-foot section of the highway in both directions by the incident.

Editor’s note: Cloverdale Fire Chief Thad Olsen contacted The Nugget to note that white powder residue left on the roadway is from an absorbent used to soak up fuel, not from firefighting foam. This story and caption has been edited to reflect that information.


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