TISKILWA, Ill. – A freight train loaded with ethanol crashed and exploded Friday, sending up bright orange flames and plumes of smoke that could be seen miles away and forcing the evacuation of a small town in northern Illinois.
Capt. Steve Haywood of the Ottawa Fire Department said the train's tanker cars were shipping ethanol for Decatur-based corn processor Archer Daniels Midland, and possibly other materials and chemicals, when it crashed and derailed. At least six tanker cars burned, he said.
The evacuation was strictly precautionary and there was no immediate danger, said Les Grant, a spokesman for Bureau County Emergency Management. The fire has been contained and no injuries have been reported, Grant said.
"Pretty much things are under control right now. ... The initial threat has been addressed," he said.
Authorities said evacuees from Tiskilwa, a village of about 800 people about 100 miles west of Chicago, were taken to a nearby high school.
Witnesses reported hearing explosions, and the glow from the fire could be seen from miles away.
"There's a lot of fire and big flames," said Amanda Knight, who told the Chicago Sun-Times that the train derailed about 500 feet from her home.
Knight said she heard several explosions coming from the accident scene.
"It sounds like a jet coming over the town. That's all I can compare it to," she said.
The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency sent a representative to the scene to make sure waterways and the environment are protected, said spokeswoman Maggie Carson.
What's known about the derailment so far -- that the train's tanker cars were presumed to be carrying ethanol -- suggests fumes will burn off and there won't be long-term effects for residents, Carson said. If other chemicals are involved the EPA will reevaluate the situation, she said.
Twenty-six cars on the 131-car train derailed, including seven to nine loaded with ethanol, according to Mick Burkart, chief operating officer of Iowa Interstate Railroad. The fire prevented officials from immediately getting close enough to the train to determine what caused the accident, Burkart said.
Burkart would not confirm whether the ethanol was being shipped for ADM, saying he does not discuss his railroad's customers.
ADM spokeswoman Jessie McKinney said the company is awaiting confirmation from railroad the derailment involved ADM tanker cars.