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Ca. Train Derailment Causes Toxic Clouds, Dangerous Tunnel Fire

Ca. Train Derailment Causes Toxic Clouds, Dangerous Tunnel Fire

n this Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010 photo released by the Kern County Fire Department, a cargo train with 2 tanker cars that had derailed at the entrance to a tunnel with one of the tanker cars involved in fire is shown. A Kern County Fire Department spokesman

Los Angeles Times via YellowBrix

February 22, 2010

BAKERSFIELD, CA. – Firefighters continued to battle a stubborn tunnel fire Sunday that broke out when several cars of a freight train derailed near Bakersfield.

Several homes were evacuated when a tanker car carrying denatured alcohol burst into flames, authorities said.

There were no injuries in the accident, which happened about 9:30 p.m. Saturday at the entrance to a tunnel on the Tehachapi Loop south of Keene, the Kern County Fire Department said in a statement.

At least two cars came off the tracks and one of them caught fire, producing a toxic cloud, the statement said. At least two other cars were also on fire, said Lena Kent, a spokeswoman for BNSF Railway, which owns the train.

As a precaution, authorities evacuated homes within a mile of the incident Saturday. Fewer than 10 homes were affected, said Engineer Justin Corley, a Fire Department spokesman. A temporary shelter was set up at Tehachapi High School.

The alcohol fire was contained to the tunnel and firefighters allowed it to burn out overnight, Corley said. But when it became apparent that a car containing plastic pellets had also caught fire at the entrance to the tunnel, they decided to move it out and spray it with foam to extinguish the flames.

“Alcohol is going to burn off very quickly, but the pellets will keep smoldering for some time,” Corley said.

Authorities extended the evacuation order Sunday to homes within a two-mile radius of the incident.

Corley said the burning plastic was “putting up a column of dark smoke.” A car containing cornmeal was also on fire Sunday, Kent said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the flames had spread to any other cars.

“We can’t get inside the tunnel to take a look because of the heat,” Corley said.

Authorities had not established what caused the train to derail. The train was traveling from Barstow to Stockton on Union Pacific tracks when the accident happened, Kent said.

Firefighters were being assisted by the Kern County Environmental Health Agency, the Kern County Sheriff’s Department, the California Highway Patrol and railroad crews.