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Rail Cars Still Burning After Texas Derailment; Many Evacuees Return

December 14, 1987|Associated Press

ROUND ROCK, Tex. — Railroad tank cars sporadically burst into flame for a second day Sunday after 16 of 85 runaway cars derailed at a switch, setting off a fire that forced evacuation of about 5,000 people due to a threat of toxic fumes.

Railroad officials said a train crew apparently uncoupled the cars from a train on a sidetrack and they accidentally coasted on their own before derailing at the main track.

Officials said it appeared that one car initially caught fire after about a dozen overturned, and two others subsequently did.

Most of the evacuees returned home Sunday after the evacuation area was reduced. No injuries were reported.

Elsewhere, a derailment involving cars carrying flammable gas forced evacuation of a lightly populated industrial area at Everett, Wash., but there was no fire.

And at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., cleanup efforts neared completion Sunday at the site of Friday's derailment of at least 25 freight cars, including six tank cars loaded with hazardous chemicals.

Firefighters decided to let the Round Rock fire burn itself out and Keith Tanner, city fire marshal, said Sunday said that the strategy appeared to be working. The blazes were expected to continue through the night.

The fires apparently were confined to cars containing liquefied propane gas and butyl alcohol, a solvent, said Alexander Tice, a spokesman for Union Pacific Railroad.

Authorities had said they were concerned about potential danger because half of the 16 derailed cars carried vinyl chloride, which emits toxic fumes when it burns.

"If those cars of vinyl chloride had gone up all at once, you'd have had an explosion that everybody would have felt in two counties, and you would have had poisonous gas all over the place," said Curtis Weeks, spokesman for the Travis County sheriff's office.

Authorities reduced the evacuation area Sunday from a 1 1/2-mile radius of the fire to one mile, allowing many residents to return home.

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