Ohio derailment explosions, fire sparked from thousands of gallons of ethanol

Source: BY JOHNNY KELLY, Examiner • Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ethanol fire burns after train derailment in Columbus, Ohio early Wednesday.
Ethanol fire burns after train derailment in Columbus, Ohio early Wednesday.

Officials say the explosions and fire following a large train derailment in Ohio early on Wednesday occurred as a result of thousands of gallons of ethanol.

Norfolk Southern said 16 of the train’s 98 cars left the tracks in the derailment that occurred around 2 a.m. EDT, including three that fire officials said were carrying 90,000 gallons of ethanol which led to the explosions and fire, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

Other derailed cars were loaded with corn syrup and grain. Fire officials said that tankers loaded with the hazardous chemical styrene fortunately were at the rear of the train and stayed on the tracks.

Two people were reported injured and about 100 residents of the nearby Weinland Park neighborhood had to be evacuated after the southbound Norfolk Southern train from Chicago to North Carolina went off the tracks on a curve near the Columbus fairgrounds.

Officials said the two people who were injured had walked onto the tracks to see what had happened when the explosion occurred. They drove themselves to a hospital, and Battalion Chief Michael Fowler classified their injuries as “very minor.”

There are no long-term health issues that residents should be concerned about, according to officials handling the cleanup.

Residents within a 1-mile radius of the derailment were evacuated in the middle of the night.

The contents of the rail cars were allowed to burn much of the day on Wednesday because of the potential environmental hazard of using the foam to put the chemical fire out.

Fowler said dousing an ethanol fire requires a special foam that carries environmental risks, and crews feared that extinguishing the remaining fuel might produce a build-up of fumes and lead to another explosion.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board are reconstructing the rails in hopes of spotting any anomalies. The full investigation could take a year.