As a Mosier volunteer firefighter, Ron Carroll has seen firsthand the threats wildfires bring to the eastern Columbia Gorge, but the Union Pacific derailment on June 3 was on a different scale. Ron was driving home from a doctor’s appointment in Portland that day and as he approached Mosier on I-84, he saw an emerging black mushroom cloud. The oil fire had just begun.
“I came over the overpass and looked west and saw jack-knifed cars on the track and fire burning.” Just as concerning was the long line of oil cars to the east wrapping around the community like a snake.
Community preparedness helped avert a major crisis: residents who had signed up for emergency notifications received them. The school district quickly brought in buses to shuttle the kids away from the Mosier School. And the Mosier firefighters worked with other first responders for over 14 hours to put out the fire. But Ron knows that nature, in the form of a windless day, made the biggest difference of all.
Ron believes that Mosier, and in fact, the entire Gorge is woefully unprepared to fight these types of oil fires. “Mosier doesn’t have enough people to fight five house fires at once,” said Ron. Residents recently voted to tax themselves to pay for better fire services, but as Ron said, “nobody, not even Portland, is prepared to fight these fires.”
Ron is emblematic of his resilient community. He moved to Mosier in 2001 after the deaths of his parents, along with his own cancer diagnosis, caused him to re-evaluate his life and retire as a financial professional. “If cancer didn’t kill me, this is the place I wanted to live the rest of my life,” said Ron. “People like me come out for the views and the natural environment, but you quickly find out the people are the biggest asset. The views may bring you here, but the people will make you stay.”
Ron has had his share of battles over the years. Cancer. Wildfires. And now mile-long unit oil trains. “Unit trains are a bad idea from start to finish, whether it is coal or oil, because there is no community that is prepared to fight this kind of event,” said Ron.