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Former Eagle reporter on edge of evacuation zone

Rachel Wagoner's son, Wyatt, 3, holds a lamb. Wagoner, a former Butler Eagle employee, resides in Beaver County. Submitted photo

Rachel Wagoner, a former Butler Eagle and Cranberry Eagle reporter, lives the bucolic yet hardworking life at a 500-acre farm she and her husband, Chris, manage in Darlington, Beaver County.

On Monday, she thought about her three ewes that were due to give birth, or “lamb,” as she drove home from dropping off her two young children at day care.

Wagoner writes for Farm and Dairy newspaper in addition to the duties necessitated by her family’s 50 to 60 sheep and 30 beef cattle.

She finished her morning chores early Monday to get her children to day care so she could focus on the handful of very pregnant ewes in the maternity pen.

With all this on her mind, she came upon men blocking Route 51 West, which leads to her farm.

She soon learned of a large train derailment just a short distance away in East Palestine, Ohio, and the accompanying release of noxious gases from the burning train cars.

“Now I can’t get (to the farm) because they closed down Route 51,” she said.

She took a back road to access the farm and found her mother-in-law didn’t know the major road had closed or that the family farm was very near a dangerous cloud of fumes from the burning wreckage.

The farm was not in the evacuation zone, but sits close to it.

“If the road was closed and they won’t let me get back in, why aren’t people who are there being evacuated or told what’s going on?” Wagoner said.

The Wagoners talked about what to do and topped off all the cattle and sheep feed boxes in case the family had to be evacuated for a day or so.

“The state said we are going to be OK, but can we evacuate all our animals in two hours?” Wagoner asked. “The answer is no.”

Many friends and family members texted the Wagoners to check on them, including one farmer who said he could house their animals temporarily if they needed to evacuate them.

“We were trying to come up with all these plans, but we didn’t know anything,” Wagoner said. “There was a lot of confusion.”

She let the livestock guardian dogs that live with the flock of sheep into the house.

“We made the decision to basically shelter in place,” Wagoner said. “We just decided to trust what the state was saying.”

She and Chris received an alert on their smartphones at 10 or 11 p.m. Sunday night, which was two days after the derailment.

The alert said a controlled explosion of one of the cars would occur that night, but Wagoner did not hear it.

“I did go to my top hayfield and take a picture,” she said.

Wagoner posted on the Tall Pines Farm Facebook page that the family and its animals are OK.

“I feel like it could have been handled better, but I understand they were doing what they could,” she said. “All day (Monday), I was texting and stressing.”

Wagoner said no one in her family is feeling any ill effects of being so close to the chemical cloud caused by the derailment and controlled explosion.

“As far as we know, we’re OK,” she said.

Two of Rachel Wagoner's lambs rest their heads. Submitted photo

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