CASSELTON, N.D. — A mile-long train carrying crude oil derailed just a mile before it would have cut through the heart of a small North Dakota town, shaking residents with a series of explosions that sent flame and black smoke skyward. No one was hurt, but officials were evacuating as many as 300 people as a precaution.
The mile-long BNSF Railway Co. 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 out.
Cass County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tara Morris said the evacuation of a section of the town Casselton was a precaution in case of a wind shift. A thick 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.
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.
Ryan Toop, who lives about a half-mile away, said he heard explosions and drove as close as about two city blocks to the fire, which erupted on a day when temperatures were below zero.
“I rolled down the window, and you could literally keep your hands warm,” Toop said.
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.