BREA — Three Southern Pacific tanker cars derailed Wednesday, spilling hundreds of gallons of liquid fertilizer and spoiling the day for about 70 golfers who were evacuated from the Birch Hills Golf Course, authorities said.
"I was in here and heard the train making a lot of noise," said Jeff Giacomi, an employee in the course's golf shop. "I went to the window and saw the train bouncing up and down and then . . . I saw the train falling on its side."
The golf course was evacuated as a precaution while fire officials determined what was leaking from the tankers. The substance was eventually identified as urea ammonium nitrate solution, a harmless liquid fertilizer, said Brea Fire Battalion Chief William Simpkins. Each tanker contained about 17,000 gallons of the compound.
"There were a lot of people around here on the driving range and on the practice green," said Jay Prestella, an assistant golf pro. "They'll get rain checks."
The accident occurred about 12:20 p.m. as a locomotive pulled several tankers along a rail spur that slices between the first and 10th tees of the golf course. A large cloud of dust punctuated the loud crash of tanker cars slamming onto the ground when they tipped off the railroad tracks, which run from the Unocal Chemicals Division plant at 2601 E. Imperial Highway.
"It was a big boom," Prestella said.
Golf course personnel said the derailment was rarer than a hole in one. In fact, it had never happened before, they said.
The cause of the derailment was not immediately known, Simpkins said.
Unocal workers assisted city firefighters in containing the pool of fertilizer by digging a trench to keep the liquid from reaching storm drains. Unocal trucks then took turns vacuuming up the liquid, which was returned to the plant, Simpkins said.