MEDFORD, Ore. —The Pacific Pride Fire is out but the environmental disaster is just coming into focus, especially here, at Bear Creek. Medford Public works Director John Vial says the focus now is to stop any further degradation to the environment.
“What we want the public to understand is this is an environmental emergency that is not done, this is an ongoing issue,” said Vial.
Vial says there is an unknown amount of oil, kerosene, and diesel that spilled as a result of the fire. A portion of it has entered Bear Creek, storm drains, and streets, but it’s unclear how much. Vial says this week’s rain only enhanced the spread of the materials.
“Petroleum products are very hazardous materials that affect drinking water, are very detrimental to wildlife, harmful to the environment these things need to be cleaned up as quick as possible,” said Vial.
The US EPA joined Oregon’s DEQ and other local agencies on-site Thursday, as the clean-up work begins.
“We understand on a conceptual level we’ve got fuel on the ground, fuel in the creek but exactly understanding where it is and how to address it is challenging,” said Geoff Brown, the on-scene coordinator with the Oregon DEQ.
But the work isn’t solely in Bear Creek. The teams are also focusing their efforts on making sure no more petroleum products leave the Central Avenue site. They’re emptying the fuel from the above-ground storage tanks, spreading out sand to clean up the road, and placing booms in Bear Creek to block the fuel from traveling further downstream.
“At this point our efforts are divided between cleaning up the site where the petroleum release occurred, cleaning up the stormwater system and the surface of the streets, and our focus on the creek to make sure there’s no off-site impact to wildlife or ecological receptors,” said Brown.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is also aiding in the effort. It’s managing the response to oiled waterfowl and any other impacts on fish or wildlife.
Meghan Dugan with ODFW says its survey team found a handful of birds that are being taken care of by a bird rescue operation in Medford. At this point, it hasn’t seen any fish affected in Bear Creek, but the work is far from over.
“We are still conducting assessments looking for any affected fish and wildlife along Bear Creek,” said Dugan.