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Ohio train derailment and fire force evacuations

TOLEDO (Reuters) - An early morning derailment of train cars filled with ethanol caused explosions and a fierce fire on Sunday that resulted in evacuations of 20 homes in Ohio.

The derailment of about 30 cars of a 60-car Norfolk Southern freight train occurred around 2:15 a.m. Eastern Time, according to railroad and fire officials. The derailment took place about a mile and a half west of Arcadia, Ohio, 40 miles southeast of Toledo.

The Rev. Bruce Crane, pastor at the Arcadia United Methodist Church, said he saw the fire from his bedroom window. "I saw a big ball of flame in the air and loud explosions."

No injuries were reported, but the fire was deemed too hazardous to fight. The Environmental Protection Agency recommended letting it burn out, according to Washington Township Fire Department Lieutenant John Hoffman.

"It's been enough to make it look like sunrise a mile and a half away," Hoffman said.

Norfolk Southern spokesman Rudy Husband said the cause of the fire, which affected 10 cars, was not yet known. Railroad officials separated other cars on the train away from the blaze in order to protect their employees. The fire was still burning as of 3:45 p.m. Eastern Time. All of the cars on the train contained ethanol, Husband said.

Hoffman said one reason for the evacuations was that a farmer's co-op is located near the site of the blaze, and there was concern fertilizer and other farm-related chemicals could catch fire.

Crane opened his church up for the American Red Cross, which took in about 10 residents. All had left by mid-afternoon, but some could not return home. Crane said displaced residents should be back in their homes by Monday night.

"Everybody seemed to be handling it pretty well, but it was quite a scare for folks," said Crane.

(Additional reporting by George Tanber; Writing by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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