Aerial view of Gainford oil train derailment on fire near Edmonton, Alberta, 18 October 2013. Photo: Parkland County

Gainford, Alberta, 19 October 2013 (AP) – Emergency crews battled a massive fire on Saturday after a Canadian National tanker train carrying oil and gas derailed west of Edmonton, Alberta, overnight. No injuries have been reported so far.

A Canadian National spokesman, Louis-Antoine Paquin, said 13 cars four carrying petroleum crude oil and nine loaded with liquified petroleum gas came off the tracks around 1am local time in the hamlet of Gainford, about 50 miles from Edmonton. The entire community of roughly 100 people was evacuated.

Paquin said three cars containing gas were leaking and on fire. Local officials feared there could be an explosion and declared a state of emergency.

"It's still a risky situation so we need to contain as much as possible and keep people far away," said Carson Mills, spokesman for Parkland County, which includes Gainford.

A resident described hearing a series of crashes moments before a huge fireball shot into the sky. "The fireball was so big, it shot across both lanes of the Yellowhead [Highway] and now both lanes of the Yellowhead are closed and there's fire on both sides," said a witness identified only as Duane.

The train was travelling from Edmonton to Vancouver, British Columbia, Paquin said. The Transportation Safety Board said it was sending investigators to the scene.

Questions about the increasing transport of oil by rail in the US and Canada were raised in July after an unattended train with 72 tankers of oil rolled into the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic near the Maine border, derailing and triggering explosions that killed 47 people. The town's center was destroyed. The rail company's chairman blamed the train's operator for failing to set enough hand brakes.

Much of that increase is from oil produced in the Bakken region, a rock formation underlying portions of Montana and North Dakota in the US, and Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada. The train that crashed in the small Quebec town was carrying oil from North Dakota to a refinery in New Brunswick, Canada. The train, using DOT-111 railcars, was operated by a US company, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway. [more]

Canadian hamlet evacuated after oil train crash causes huge blaze

Smoke rises in the distance as firefighters block a highway leading to an area where a train derailed in the town of Gainford, Alberta, 19 October 2013. Photo: Dan Riedlhuber / Reuters

By Cailynn Klingbeil and Brent Wittmeier, Edmonton Journal
19 October 2013

GAINFORD, Alberta – Emergency crews are monitoring a massive fire burning after a tanker train carrying oil and gas derailed west of Edmonton overnight.

Thirteen cars — four carrying petroleum crude oil and nine carrying liquefied petroleum gas — came off the tracks around 1 a.m. in the hamlet of Gainford, about 85 kilometres west of Edmonton on Highway 16, halfway between the Seba Beach overpass and the old Gainford Hotel.

Emergency crews responded shortly after 1 a.m. to reports of an explosion.

Jim Phelan, Parkland County fire chief, told a news conference that one car carrying liquefied petroleum gas exploded, causing damage to several other cars.

No injuries have been reported. Ken Lemke, the MLA for Stony Plain, said some CN workers were taken to hospital for observation but released.

Residents for miles around saw and heard a “large fireball,” Phelan said.

“There’s been no explosion or similar event like that since,” he said.

“How it exploded, and why, that’s yet to be determined.”

Phelan said crews on scene are allowing the product to burn off.

“We’re better off to allow it to vent and burn,” he said. “It’s unsafe to start fire-suppression activities.”

Of the 13 cars that derailed, only three are considered compromised, Phelan said.

Parkland County has declared a local state of emergency for Gainford and the immediate surrounding area. All area residents are to avoid the area until further notice.

The cleared area extends 1.6 kilometres from the epicentre of the derailment. The entire community of about 100 people has been evacuated, said Carson Mills, a spokesman for Parkland County.

Elaine Hughes, who lives in a trailer park near the derailment site, woke up to a blast that shook her home. She immediately thought of the Edmonton tornado of 1987, which she lived through.

Her room was bathed in orange light from flames she estimated were about 100 metres away.

“I went flying out of bed and I go look out the window, I could see great big flames way high in the air,” Hughes said. “Then the flames went out and there was nothing but black smoke.”

Devon Cadwell, 15, was in bed in his home about two kilometres away from the scene, but awoke to a blast “so powerful it shook the house.” He got up and went outside to bring the horses in.

“We could see puffs of smoke and fire,” Cadwell said.

Cadwell said that around 1:30 a.m., he and his family were told they didn’t have to leave, but to be ready to evacuate. At about 5:30 a.m., the family was evacuated. They went to a cousin’s home. […]

Alberta Environment staff are on-site and will be setting up air monitoring equipment to check air quality downwind of the site, said Alberta Environment spokeswoman Robyn Cochrane.

Phelan said there is a little bit of black smoke that comes and goes but no indication yet of air-quality issues.

Government firefighters and equipment including a helicopter are being used to help out county staff with any grass fires in the area.

“We just won’t know the extent, from an environmental point of view, until it’s all said and done,” Cochrane said. “We’ll work with the company on containment and then also remediation.”

Highway 16 traffic has been rerouted north along secondary Highway 765, westbound along secondary Highway 633 and returning southbound on secondary Highway 757. The portion of the highway is expected to be rerouted for the next 24 to 48 hours.

Gainford is about 20 kilometres west of Wabamun, along the same CN Rail line where on Aug. 3, 2005, 43 cars of a westbound CN freight train derailed, spilling 700,000 litres of heavy fuel oil and 88,000 litres of pole treating oil into and around Wabamun Lake, and forcing the evacuation of 20 people.

The Transportation Safety Board investigation found that the train derailed when the rail beneath it broke due to defects. [more]

'Great big flames way up high,' witness says of Gainford derailment, explosion



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