GRAETTINGER - Twenty-seven tank cars of a freight train carrying ethanol derailed south of Graettinger early Friday morning with several fuel tanks bursting into flame.
The Palo Alto County Sheriff's Office reported the derailment occurred just before 1 a.m. The Union Pacific train was southbound a mile southeast of Graettinger when a nearby resident reported the screeching of metal and then saw flames in a farm field along the tracks.
Graettinger firefighters were paged to the scene and established a perimeter along with deputies, the Emmetsburg Fire Department and Graettinger Ambulance Service. Firefighters elected to let the fire burn, rather than attempt to douse the flames.
Derailed tank cars burn fiercely following the derailment of 17 cars of a 101 car train carrying Ethanol from the Green Plains Ethanol Refinery in Superior shortly before 1 a.m. Friday, March 10. Nine tankers remain on the tracks, but fires continued to burn in damaged and leaking tank cars through the morning and into the afternoon. However, no injuries were reported in the derailment of subsequent fire.
photo by Dan Voigt, Emmetsburg Publishing Company
Officials at the scene said of the 101 rail cars, 27 cars came off the tracks. Seventy-four cars were uncoupled and pulled out of danger. Of the 27 tankers that remained, several were engulfed in flames. Two crewmembers escaped the train unharmed. Residents of four nearby homes within a half mile of the derailment were asked to evacuate the area to maintain a safe zone. They were allowed to return to their homes at 10:30 a.m. as the fire had reduced in size and the immediate danger had past. Flames were still visible from the wreckage and that could continue for some time, the sheriff's office reported Friday afternoon.
Union Pacific officials had arrived to monitor the incident at the site Friday afternoon. Clean up crews and equipment began to stage in Graettinger until the burn site is deemed safe, which could be several hours.
Local Iowa Department of Natural Resource officials collected samples from the creek at the derailment site for testing. Several tank cars ended up in Jack Creek, which flows into the West Fork of the Des Moines River.
The National Transportation Safety Board assumed control of the scene at mid-morning.