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Tanker Crashes, Spills Gas in Creek

August 23, 1999

MAPLETON, Ore. (AP) _ A tanker truck hit a vehicle and plunged off a winding highway near the central Oregon Coast today, killing a motorist and spilling thousands of gallons of gasoline into a creek that is home to threatened salmon.

The driver of the truck escaped serious injury in the accident, which happened at 5:30 a.m. on State Highway 126 five miles east of this western Oregon town.

A passenger in the other vehicle involved in the wreck was killed. State Police spokesman Lt. Gregg Hastings said deputies were still searching the underbrush at the scene for others who may have been thrown from it.

Cleanup crews said the danger of fire and explosion forced them to stand by and let the gasoline evaporate as it works its way down Knowles Creek, which feeds the Siuslaw River.

``Once it gets there, there won’t be enough left to collect,″ said Jennifer Boudin, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The tanker held 11,000 gallons of gasoline, and an unknown but significant fraction of it spilled, authorities said.

Upstream of the spill, Knowles Creek has been the site of innovative efforts to restore spawning and rearing habitat for threatened coho salmon runs heavily damaged by industrial logging.

With water at summertime low levels, many juvenile coho and chinook salmon, steelhead and searun cutthroat trout would be in deeper pools as they grow large enough to migrate to the ocean next spring.

``If this spill was upstream of any of the salmon pools in Knowles Creek, those fish are toast,″ said David Bayles, conservation director of the Pacific Rivers Council. ``The fact that there are no big spawning adults in the river does not mean it is not a disaster. It is the little guys who are more vulnerable. And it is the little guys who are in there right now.″

The council has been restoring habitat in the creek in partnership with the Siuslaw National Forest and Hancock Timber Resources Group, which owns the land the creek runs through. It has been part of statewide efforts to save salmon runs from extinction.

Boudin said cleanup crews would focus on the accident site because the tanker was also spilling gasoline into the soil near the creek, requiring eventual removal of the soil.

Besides police, the DEQ, the state Office of Emergency Management, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Coast Guard were responding to the accident.

Highway 126, the major route between Eugene and the coast, remained closed late this morning.

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