Five workers were burnt, one of them seriously
(Update: Grass Valley eviction lifted and new photos released)
GRASS VALLEY, OR (KTVZ) — Five workers, one seriously, were injured in an explosion and fire at a cannabis product manufacturing plant in Grass Valley Sunday afternoon, prompting the evacuation of the entire Sherman County community for nearly a day and hours. – Authorities said that US Highway 97 was closed for a long time.
The explosion and fire were reported around 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Grass Valley Bio Farm, 212 NW Street, Sherman County Emergency Services Director Dana Pursley Haner said.
The official said the facility makes products such as cannabis oils, lip balms and ointments.
“In the beginning, there was the first explosion in one of their side rooms, the rescue room” at the facility, which is about 80 by 100 feet and is located in the former Grass Valley School, said Pursley Haner.
South Sherman Fire and Rescue, Moro and North Sherman Fire units responded, as well as the Sherman County ambulance and the sheriff’s office.
She said eight potential patients were initially evaluated, but three refused medical care. The most severely injured worker was transported by Life Flight to the Legacy Emanuel Burn Center in Portland. Sheriff’s deputies confirmed that five factory workers had suffered burns, one of them with “significant” burns. An injured woman was later released from Med-Columbia Medical Center in Dallas, Pursley Haner said.
Officials decided to evacuate the Grass Valley city, which has a population of about 150, because of the chemicals stored at the site, Pursley-Hander said, also confirming subsequent “mini-explosions” of toxic chemicals stored at the site. The evacuation was lifted late Monday morning and officials sent out a warning that it was safe to return home.
Sherman County sheriff’s deputies said the evacuation was “due to a large amount of combustible chemicals and the potential for a large explosion.”
“We err on the side of caution,” said Pursley Haner. She said early in the evening that officials hoped the situation would improve enough to enable residents to return home by midnight. But sheriff’s officials later said the evacuation would continue through the night, with a reassessment of the situation Monday morning.
She said the winds changed Sunday night, and people in the area could smell the chemicals.
The firefighters initially worked to put out the flames, but then retreated to a defensive position, letting the fire burn. “Our entry was more dangerous because of the chemicals,” said Pursley Haner.
The building was called a complete loss. The cause of the explosion and fire is still being investigated.
“It could have been a lot worse,” said Pursley Haner, with a much smaller weekend crew working at the plant. She explained that “on a weekday, there were double and triple” the workers there.
The Gresham and Hermiston hazmat crews were called to the scene. Pursley Haner said. The Oregon DEQ and the state’s fire marshal’s office will be there Monday to monitor and assess conditions, as well as assist in the investigation of what happened.
A total of 15 displaced people were staying at an American Red Cross shelter at the Sherman County School District in nearby Morrow.
An 11-mile stretch of Interstate 97 between Morrow and South Grass Valley was closed for several hours but reopened around 7:30 p.m. ODOT advised motorists that due to the fire and thick freezing fog in the area, they should continue to “exercise caution and watch out for emergency responders.”
Grass Valley is located about 110 miles north of Bend.