UPDATE: The evacuation order was lifted at around 1:50 p.m. Saturday afternoon and all residents were allowed back into their homes. As of Sunday afternoon, the truck tanker has been removed from Lemon Creek. There still is a warning not to drink or use the water.
Hazmat crews in B.C.’s Slocan Valley were kept busy Saturday as they worked to contain a fuel spill that forced thousands of people from their homes.
A state of emergency was declared and a mandatory evacuation order was in effect for thousands of residents who live near Lemon Creek on Friday after an Executive Flight Centre tanker carrying 35,000 litres of jet fuel went off the road and crashed into Lemon Creek, spilling fuel into the river that is connected to several waterways in the area.
The regional district confirmed that the entire tanker load was dumped into Lemon Creek and carried downstream.
The driver of the tanker was taken to hospital with minor injuries.
Executive Flight Centre spokesperson Wayne Smook said the crash was caused when the shoulder of the logging road gave way, however this has not been confirmed by investigators.
The truck was on its way to deliver fuel for helicopters fighting a local wildfire.
Smook said the company is investigating the incident and has sent an environmental response team to aid in the clean-up.
“We are quite concerned about this incident,” Smook said.
No medical concerns have been reported by area residents, but they have been warned to avoid drinking or using any water from sources within the evacuation order area and 10 kilometres downstream.
Heidi Joffe, who owns property in the area, said the spill has destroyed the pristine wilderness of the Slocan Valley.
“They have destroyed a pure river… we swim in it,” she said. “The residents in that area rely on the well water for the homes. How long will it take to be usable again? Will they compensate them for this loss? Buyout the properties?”
Highway 6 was closed from the junction with Highway 3 to the junction with Highway 31.
The evacuation order covered an area from Playmor Junction (Highway 3 and 6) to 800 metres north of Lemon Creek.
Residents within 800 metres of water courses in the evacuation area were impacted.
Update: The regional district said that 579 residents who were staying at three emergency shelters in the area were allowed to return home Saturday afternoon.
Health and safety concerns
There are several health and safety concerns associated with fuel spills, including fume inhalation, water contamination and a risk of explosions.
The Regional District of Central Kootenay and B.C.’s medical health officer said the broad evacuation order was a precautionary response to avoid negative health impacts of inhaling fumes, particularly in confined spaces.
There was also the possibility of an explosion from a buildup of fumes in a confined space.
Slocan Valley residents and British Columbians took to social media following the spill to express concerns over the safety of transporting oil in the province.
Weeping for our beautiful Slocan Valley, one of the cleanest places on Earth now in an environmental disaster and evacuated. Jet fuel spill.
— The Regal Diner (@TheRegalDiner) July 27, 2013
i would have choose the flood all over again over the severe environmental damage & death of animals + plants happening right now in Slocan.
— देवAnaiksiinamayakii (@nicolerrabbit) July 27, 2013
The scope of how the fuel spill will affect the environment, wildlife and marine life that live in and around Lemon Creek has yet to be determined.
The Vancouver hazardous materials crew was working with other agencies to contain the spill, which is moving downstream.
Further testing and sampling is being conducted on an ongoing basis.