A 106-car mile-long train carrying crude oil derailed just a mile before it would have cut through the heart of Casselton, a small North Dakota town. It shook residents with a series of explosions that sent flames and black smoke skyward. No one was hurt in the accident but officials were evacuating as many as 300 people as a precaution.
The BNSF Railway Company train left the tracks about 2:30 p.m. Monday and as many as 10 cars caught fire. They were still burning four hours later as darkness fell and authorities said they would be allowed to burn themselves out. Authorities hadn’t yet been able to untangle exactly how the derailment happened but a second train carrying grain was involved. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the train carrying grain derailed first, then knocked several cars of the oil train off adjoining tracks.
Cass County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tara Morris said the evacuation of a section of the town was a precaution in case of a wind shift. A think smoke plume from the burning cars was largely staying to the southeast of town. Casselton has about 2,400 residents and is about 25 miles west of Fargo.
The derailment happened amid increased concerns about the United States’ increased reliance on rail to carry crude oil. Fears of catastrophic derailments were particularly stoked after last summer’s crash in Canada of a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil patch. Forty-seven people died in the ensuing fire.
Morris said it could take up to 12 hours before authorities could get close to the fire but Casselton’s residents were told to stay indoors as soon as the blasts began. The Red Cross set up a temporary shelter at the high school for evacuees. Jeff Zent, a spokesman for Governor Jack Dalrymple said the National Guard was on alert if needed.
Hannah Linnard, 13, said she was in the bedroom of her friend’s house about half a mile from the derailment, wrapping late Christmas presents. “I looked out the window and all of a sudden the train car tipped over and the whole thing was engulfed in flames and it just exploded. The oil car tipped over onto the grain car,” she said.
State health officials were in Casselton and planned to check for health hazards once the fires are out, said Dave Glatt, director of the Health Department’s environmental health section.
To see a short video of the ensuing fire, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CxkUhVswF5U&feature=player_embedded