By Matt Kawahara and Cathy Locke
A mandatory evacuation order remains in place in Lincoln after propane coming from a rail tank car caught fire around noon and continues to burn at the Northern Energy tank farm.
Highway 65 in Lincoln has been closed to traffic since Tuesday afternoon, and a mandatory evacuation was put in effect for homes and businesses within a 1-mile radius of the burning, 29,000-gallon rail car.
The possibility of an explosion prompted the evacuation of about 4,800 homes by Placer County and Lincoln law enforcement, said Daniel Berlant, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman, in a news release. Cal Fire is assisting the Lincoln Fire Department.
Photo gallery: Propane fire threatens Lincoln
Four unmanned hoses are continuously spraying water on the rail car to keep it cool and keep the pressure down, as firefighters remain concerned that building pressure could cause an explosion, Berlant reported.
Evacuated areas include areas northeast of Highway 65 and Ferrari Ranch Road to the northern city limit, east of Joiner Parkway, south of Nicolaus Road and north of First Street.
Highway 65 is closed to southbound traffic at Wise Road and to northbound traffic at Ferrari Ranch Road. Motorists were being detoured.
Three evacuation centers were set up at Club Lincoln, the Community Center and the Kilaga Springs Lodge in Sun City Lincoln Hills.
City residents filed into the center at the Kilaga Springs Lodge about 7:30 p.m., many unsure of where they would be spending the night. In a large auditorium, evacuees sat at tables eating pizza. Others, some with leashed dogs, sat in lawn chairs on the grass out front.
Arne Kalma, 70, and his wife, Sherry, said they weren't sure whether they lived inside the mandatory evacuation area. But when Sherry tried to drive home Tuesday evening, she was turned around by authorities.
"Propane is a dangerous thing," Arne Kalma said. "We're over a mile away, but if it explodes, who knows? If they're telling me that it's a dangerous place, I'm not going to argue with them."
They were among about 50 people at the evacuation center at that point - down from 120 earlier in the afternoon, said Tami Martin, a Red Cross shelter manager. Others had gone out to dinner or tried to return to their homes, Martin said.
The Club Lincoln evacuation center at Groveland and Ferrari Ranch was nearly empty shortly before 7 p.m. Bonita Brooks, leaving that center with her sister and a friend, said several nearby hotels were booked up, but that they had managed to find a room for the night.
About 8:30 p.m., CAL FIRE's Berlant arrived at the Kilaga Springs center to inform evacuees that they would not be able to return to their homes Tuesday night.
A Red Cross trailer had already arrived at the center carrying cots and blankets in case the center needed to be converted to an overnight shelter.
"It looks like we'll have to just wait here until they tell us we can go home," said Michelle Sigur, 35, with her two children.
Sigur said that, when she left it, her home was a block outside the evacuation area, but she didn't want to "be there and waiting."
Her son, 10-year-old Dorin Wirth, had grabbed his back-to-school uniform before they evacuated -- only to find out later that his first day of fifth Wednesday would be canceled.
"That's pretty cool," he said.
All 11 Western Placer Unified School District schools will be closed Wednesday because of the evacuation.
The district office is in the evacuation zone and will also be closed Wednesday.
Bee staff writers Bill Lindelof and Whitney Mountain contributed to this report.
Bee photographer Randall Benton contributed to this report. Photo: Fire crews attempt to keep the tanker cool by pouring water on it.