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Concern for wildlife rises amid Pacific Pride fire and oil spill cleanup

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Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCleanup efforts continue along South Central Avenue in Medford Saturday morning from the Carson-Pacific Pride Commercial Fuel Station fire and oil spill.
An oil-stained gosling found near Bear Creek is shown in this photo provided by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The spill resulted from a fire at the Carson-Pacific Pride Commercial Fuel Station on South Central Avenue in Medford. International Bird Rescue asks that people don't touch oiled birds and instead call them at 707-689-3944 to report the sighting so trained experts can start rehabilitation as soon as possible. Contributed photo
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCleanup efforts continue along South Central Avenue in Medford Saturday morning.

Cleanup efforts after the fuel fire and oil spill that began late Tuesday at the Carson-Pacific Pride Commercial Fuel Station at 936 South Central Ave. in Medford continues, with wildlife experts warning local residents to not handle oil-soaked birds found in the vicinity.

On Friday, crews observed “small areas of light sheen” downstream from Bear Creek on the Rogue River. This prompted additional efforts, such as placing more booms in Bear Creek to collect the oil runoff from the fuel fire.

The blaze was put out Wednesday. Four buildings north of the fuel station were destroyed. And clean-up of oils near the fire site as well as in and around Bear Creek continue and are “a work in progress,” said Brooks Stanfield, a Seattle-based federal on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Up to 12,600 gallons of oil in plastic containers on the property disappeared through evaporation or flowed off-site to Bear Creek and other nearby areas, including the sheen floating on the surface of the river. Oil runoff left the fire area through storm drains.

Most of that oil was thick and sticky lubricant. Geoff Brown, on-scene coordinator for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, explained that lube oil has a lower toxicity level than gasoline and other petroleum products.

Other oils thought to have flowed away or dissipated as a result of the fire included 40 gallons of gasoline, 60 gallons of kerosene and 80 gallons of diesel, Brown said.

Clean-up efforts heightened in anticipation of rain Saturday as well as the potential for rain Monday through Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Precipitation makes such tasks harder because many of the clean-up materials become less effective.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists have been monitoring the area of Bear Creek affected by the oil spill since Wednesday. At least a dozen oiled birds have been seen and International Bird Rescue arrived in the area Wednesday and brought a mobile care vehicle where wildlife experts have been caring for several waterfowl.

Barbara Callahan, response services director for the global conservation organization, emphasized the need for people not to touch the birds.

They are covered in a dangerous substance.

“It’s a toxic fuel,” Callahan said.

People working with the organization are experts and know how to best handle and approach these animals that are already stressed because they are covered in oil and likely very cold because they’ve lost their natural waterproof state.

Many people believe the natural oil in their feathers is what keeps waterfowl warm. That’s not the case. Instead, it’s the structure of their feathers. And that structure becomes highly compromised because of the petroleum oil and their efforts to remove it themselves, Callahan said.

What they need most is “medical stabilization,” she noted.

Animals would struggle and use even more energy and become further stressed. And the person trying to help could also be injured.

Knowing how to capture the bird in a way that doesn’t add to their ongoing stress is among things the experts learn.

Before the petroleum oil is washed off, the waterfowl is provided with fluids and undergoes medical examination.

The stress, energy expended and other possible health factors need to be addressed before it’s safe for the oil to be removed.

And once a bird is stable enough to be washed, the task is also “a very specific process,” she also said.

Callahan urged people to not pick up affected animals, including the oiled birds. Call 707-689-3944.

The location of Bear Creek that has been most affected by the spill has what is described as an important patch of riparian forest that provides an important productivity corridor by ODFW.

“It’s a stepping stone for wildlife to get through Medford’s urban areas,” the state agency’s assessment explained.

The area supports live fish, including juvenile chinook salmon and steelhead, as well as crayfish.

ODFW biologists are concerned about “potential long-term effects to fish and wildlife,” they wrote in an assessment. “Those impacts could affect the health and reproduction success of fish and wildlife in this area.”

State biologists also noted this year’s breeding season has been slow for small wildlife, including western pond turtles, because it has been a cool spring.

Overall, fish are in abundance in Bear Creek right now. Some are considered more susceptible to the oil: newly emerged fall chinook fry; Pacific lamprey ammoceotes, which are also newly emerged larvae in gravel; and sucker eggs “broadcast onto rock surfaces,” according to the ODFW.

Stanfield and Brown commended area firefighters for their approach to the fire and oil leak by letting the fire burn away a great deal of the petroleum that was released. They also made note of city crews quickly going to where the oil runoff was expected to travel and placing booms in the creek and moving around dirt to stop the flow.

Overall, first and early local response to the incident was “fantastic,” and that those actions ultimately decreased the severity of the oil spill’s environmental impact, said Brown.

Absorbent as well as collection booms are in the creek.

The oil sheen on the surface of the Rogue River won’t be removed but is expected to degrade.

Standfield and Brown also said the corporation NexGen Logistics, LLC has been involved, responsive and taking its responsibility — including financial concerns — seriously as the owner of the fuel station.

“That makes our jobs a lot infinitely easier,” Stanfield said.

Medford police also reported that as of Saturday, no arrests have been made pertaining to the fire at Pacific Pride. The investigation is continuing.

People with information are asked to call police at 541-770-4783 and refer to case No. 22-6203.