Fire, explosions at Cornelius ethanol facility prompt evacuation

Source: By Lizzy Acker andJaimie Ding, The Oregonian/OregonLive • Posted: Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Explosions and a large fire at a Cornelius business that produces ethanol prompted an evacuation Tuesday afternoon.

Firefighters were dispatched at 1:30 p.m. to initial reports of a fuel tank on fire at a facility on the 500 block of North 4th Avenue. Crews initially began working to extinguish the fire but were pulled back to a safe distance due to “explosions and erratic fire conditions,” Forest Grove Fire & Rescue spokesperson Matt Johnston said Tuesday night.

The Cornelius Fire Department said the fire was “under control” a little after 7 p.m. Hazmat and Portland Airport crews were re-assessing the situation in hopes of fully extinguishing the fires. Shortly after, residents were able to to their homes and roads were re-opened.

The flames erupted at the Summit Foods Inc. complex on North 4th Avenue, which also houses subsidiary Thunderbolt Racing Fuel, said Allen Shapiro, a distributor for the fuel company. Shapiro told The Oregonian/OregonLive he had been in contact with an employee of the company who told him everyone in the building had gotten out safe after the fire started.

Cornelius fire officials said no one had died or been injured.

The facility contained several thousand gallons of high-burning ethanol, Johnston said at a news conference about 3:20 p.m. Crews were taking a “stay and wait” approach and due to the danger of the ethanol, Johnston said.

A foam truck from the Portland Airport was used to spray a bright purple extinguishing agent, Purple K, to quell the ethanol fire, Johnston said Tuesday night.

The evacuation zone stretched from Yew Street in Forest Grove east to North 10th Avenue in Cornelius, and north of Tualatin Valley Highway. About 80 homes as well as local businesses were evacuated, Johnston said.

Others in the area were told to shelter in place. Fire officials said some residents may be without natural gas as it was turned off during the firefighting efforts, and utility crews were working to restore it Tuesday night.

Cornelius resident Katherine Riley told The Oregonian/OregonLive she was sitting in the Walmart parking lot south of the facility when the fire began about 1:30 p.m.

“We saw the flames billowing up a little bit and some smoke,” she said.

About 1:45 p.m., she saw multiple explosions. Police arrived to evacuate people from the parking lot shortly after. Employees and customers inside the Walmart were evacuated to the opposite side of Tualatin Valley Highway, Riley said.


Hillsboro police said at 2 p.m. that Tualatin Valley Highway was closed going into Cornelius.

A live stream of the fire from KATU’s helicopter showed several buildings on fire. Three other structures as well as several vehicles and delivery trucks were destroyed, Johnston said.

Several agencies including Forest Grove Fire, Port of Portland Fire, and Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue’s Hazmat team also responded to the scene.

The Cornelius Fire Department classified the incident as a three-alarm fire. The department also said there was a temporary flight restriction in place for one nautical mile around the incident, up to 5,000 feet and asked the public not to fly drones in the area.

TriMet assisted with the evacuation effort, spokesperson Roberta Altstadt said. A handful of buses took people who had gathered in a safe location near 10th and Adair Street to Neil Armstrong Middle School.

— Lizzy Acker & Jaimie Ding

503-221-8052,, @lizzzyacker