Train derailment in western Minnesota: Fires still burning hours after crash

More than a dozen rail cars on a BNSF train derailed near Raymond, Minnesota, early Thursday, with several derailed tankers carrying ethanol starting on fire. 

BNSF told FOX 9 approximately 22 rail cars derailed at 1:02 a.m. The Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office says the train was carrying ethanol and corn syrup liquid. Numerous rail cars were engulfed in flames.

The EPA Great Lakes tweeted four cars containing ethanol, which is a highly flammable product, ruptured, caught fire and continue to burn. 

Crews were still working to put out the flames as of 10:30 a.m.

No injuries have been reported. The cause of the derailment is under investigation. 

Evacuation order ends; fire still burns

A sense of calm has replaced panic after a huge train derailment overnight near Raymond.

The derailed cars are still flipped on their sides and the nearby highway is still closed, but the fear of an explosion or dangerous air has dissipated, and evacuations are called off.

The cleanup process was really just getting started late Thursday night.

Crews built a staging area where they’ll first put foam on the burning cars before cranes lift all of them upright.

Heavy equipment moved into place alongside the derailed BNSF train cars Thursday night.

Twenty-two of them careened off the tracks in Kandiyohi County around 1 a.m., startling a few Raymond residents who were still awake and heard a booming sound.

"We saw the flames and at that time we’re about 30 feet, I’d say, in the air," said Susan Spieker.

"I was just hoping it wasn’t something like in Ohio where they had that big spill and I was hoping it was nothing like that," said Wayne Haukos.

The view changed during the day, but the fire kept burning. 10 of the overturned cars contained ethanol -- the other 12 had corn syrup -- and Governor Tim Walz acknowledged the scary sight during a visit Thursday morning.

"What you see right now is cars on top of each other and they’re burning," the governor said to evacuated residents.

"It’s a scary situation for all of you, I want to acknowledge this. You see a tanker car burning and your first thought is ‘that’s a big bomb waiting to explode.’"

Even though some of the train cars were punctured and leaking, railroad executives said these cars are state of the art, so the risk of an explosion was almost zero.

Sheriff’s deputies evacuated the whole city of Raymond in the early morning hours, but let everybody go home before noon.
Executives apologized for the scare and confusing inconvenience, and promised to work hard and fast to clean it all up.

"Ethanol will burn off and we’re monitoring the air and we’re monitoring all the conditions around the derailment site," said BNSF vice president Matt Garland.

Best case scenario  is that the major work wraps up by Saturday and they can reopen Highway 23.

It’ll still take the NTSB quite some time to investigate and release the cause of this derailment.

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A BNSF train derailed at about 1 a.m. Thursday, March 30, and started on fire.  (FOX 9)

Gov. Walz visits residents near derailment

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and state emergency management leaders traveled to Raymond Thursday morning, pledging their full support to those impacted. 

"I am immensely grateful for the swift, coordinated response between local, state, and national partners to ensure the immediate safety of the Raymond community," Walz said in a statement. "The state’s multi-agency emergency response team will continue working on the ground to ensure health and safety. This incident has highlighted the critical need to invest in rail safety and the state’s emergency management response to prevent incidents like this from happening again."

The governor was briefed by United States Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg,

"FRA is on the ground after a BNSF train carrying ethanol derailed early this morning, leading to an evacuation in the area of Raymond, MN. At present no injuries or fatalities have been reported. We are tracking closely as more details emerge and will be involved in investigation," Buttigieg tweeted.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, tweeted about the derailment, saying the first priority is to keep Raymond residents safe. She also says this is a reminder of why Congress must pass strong rail safety legislation.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Senate will hold a rail safety hearing at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 31, to discuss a bill that would implement emergency response planning and establish training requirements aimed at improving rail safety.