Sparks from a cutting torch ignited leaking vapors from a derailed train car and caused a fire that burned three workers and prompted the evacuation of a town near Louisville on Wednesday, a fire official said.
The blaze broke out shortly after 1 p.m. EDT. Workers were using a cutting torch or welder to separate two of the derailed cars, said Lt. Col. Rick Harrison, assistant chief with the suburban Buechel Fire Department.
“Sparks ignited the vapor from the chemical itself,” Harrison said.
Officials in West Point ordered its 1,000 residents to leave town as firefighters battled the blaze. The town is a short distance from the fire, and a couple of shelters were set up nearby. It was part of an evacuation within a 1.2-mile radius of the fire. The order also affected nearly 140 residences in southwest Louisville.
The three workers suffered burns and were taken to University of Louisville hospital. Authorities had not released their names but said one was in critical condition, another in serious condition and the third in fair condition.
The fire was contained to a tanker car that had contained butadiene, Harrison said. Officials said they expected the residual amount of the butadiene to burn itself out in less than a couple hours.
Butadiene is a colorless, flammable gas that smells mildly like gasoline, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It is shipped as a liquefied, compressed gas. It can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat and drowsiness and dizziness. Exposure also can damage the central nervous system and the reproductive system.
People living beyond the evacuation area but within five miles of the blaze were being told to stay indoors, close all windows and doors, bring pets inside and turn off their heating and air conditioning systems.
Doug Hamilton, director of the Louisville Emergency Management Agency, said two other workers were injured but refused to be transported to the hospital.
Hamilton said the workers were wearing respirators when the fire erupted.
They work for R. J. Corman, one of the contractors helping to clean up the derailment, according to The Courier-Journal.
Workers on Wednesday had been planning to move two rail cars containing potentially deadly hydrogen fluoride that were part of a derailment Monday.
A Paducah & Louisville Railway train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed Monday morning near Dixie Highway. A leak of a potentially explosive material was contained after the derailment, but crews have been working to put the railroad cars back on the track or remove them and the highway remained closed.
(Associated Press writer Janet Cappiello in Louisville contributed to this report.)
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