LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – A chemical fire at the site of a train derailment in Kentucky that forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes is expected to continue burning all day Thursday.
Emergency officials said they were given inaccurate information about how much of the flammable chemical, butadiene, remained in an overturned tanker car. Authorities initially estimated the fire would burn itself out within two hours, but now they’re having to reassess how much of the chemical is left, said Doug Hamilton with Metro Louisville Emergency Management.
It wasn’t immediately clear exactly how long the fire would continue burning, flames shooting out of the car and spewing thick, black smoke.
The blaze has forced the evacuation of the entire central Kentucky town of West Point, as well as people from nearby Louisville.
The evacuation order came after a cutting torch ignited vapors Wednesday while workers tried to separate two of the 13 cars that derailed early Monday. The vapors were from butadiene, a colorless, flammable gas that is a common ingredient in synthetic rubber used for tires on cars and trucks.
Three workers were taken to the University of Louisville hospital with severe burns. Authorities have not released the names of the injured workers but said one was in critical condition, while the other two were in fair condition. One was expected to be released from the hospital Thursday.
“The workers that are here are highly trained and this is one of those freak accidents that occurs unfortunately,” Lt. Col. Rick Harrison, assistant chief with the suburban Buechel Fire Department said.
Metro Louisville Emergency Management spokeswoman Jodie Duncan said the evacuation order would stay in place until the blaze was extinguished. Butadiene, which is shipped in a liquefied and compressed state, can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. It can also damage the central nervous system and the reproductive system.
Firefighters continued spraying water onto the butadiene car and adjacent cars carrying hydrogen fluoride Thursday in order to cool them. Officials had been concerned that the fire could spread, but Duncan said the hydrogen fluoride cars were now cool to the touch.
The Paducah & Louisville Railway train derailed Monday morning near Dixie Highway. Nine of the 13 derailed cars were carrying hazardous chemicals.
Residents within a 1.2-mile radius of the wreck were evacuated Wednesday after the gas caught fire, sending up flames and thick, black smoke. Those living within a 5-mile radius were ordered to stay indoors. Also, three local schools within the areas of the evacuation or shelter-in-place orders were closed Thursday.