Train Derailment, Fire Forces Ohio Evacuations

ARCADIA, Ohio -- A freight train carrying volatile chemicals derailed about 50 miles south of Toledo Sunday morning, causing at least 15 tanker cars to catch fire and explode and forcing evacuations of nearby homes, a fire official said. No injuries have been reported.

Capt. Jim Breyman of the Arcadia Fire Department said the call came in at about 2:15 a.m., and estimates 15 to 18 tanker cars carrying ethanol derailed.

About 20 homes were evacuated in the area about two miles west of the village of Arcadia, but it was unclear exactly how many people were in those homes, he said.

The scene was intense and dramatic.

"We're talking fireballs," he said of the explosion. "When they went thousands of feet in the air, they could be seen from 20-plus miles away."

Authorities were assessing whether to send in crews to put out the blaze or to wait for it to burn out, he said. A primary concern was that one end of a string of seven chemical-filled cars was near the fire and could not be moved but had not vented or burned, creating the possibility of a chain reaction if it were to explode.

The burning cars, scattered on either side of the tracks, had been separated from most of the rest of the train.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency was testing waterways in the area Sunday morning to see if there was any contamination, but Breyman said he expected most of the fuel to be burned up in the blaze.

An initial concern was that the derailment and explosions happened next to a fertilizer plant, and Breyman said it was fortunate the fire didn't spread there.

"I've been a fireman for almost 30 years now and I've seen a lot, never seen anything like this," Breyman said. "It was beyond words."

The train was headed from Chicago to North Carolina with 62 cars loaded with ethanol, and preliminary information indicated about half those cars derailed, Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband said. He said he had no information on what caused the derailment.