GAINFORD, Alta. – Emergency crews continue to work to contain a fire created when a CN train carrying oil laden tanker cars derailed west of Edmonton overnight.
Thirteen cars — four carrying petroleum crude oil and nine carrying liquefied petroleum gas — came off the tracks around 1 a.m. local time in the hamlet of Gainford.
That’s about 80 kilometres from the provincial capital. The area is under a state of emergency and the entire community of roughly 100 has been evacuated.
Witnesses said they heard an explosion at about 1 a.m.
“I ran out of my bedroom and I opened up the blinds and I saw fire everywhere, so I ran to my phone and called 9-1-1,” Tara Brierley who was forced to leave her home early Saturday morning.
Officials said there was another blast around 9 a.m.
“It was a CN Rail car full of liquefied petroleum gas that derailed and exploded,” said Parkland County Fire Chief James Phelan. “How it exploded and why, that’s yet to be determined.”
Three cars containing gas were leaking and on fire, said CN spokesperson Louis-Antoine Paquin.
Officials say the explosion and fire didn’t damage any homes. However, a grass fire did start and helicopters were called in to fight the wildfire.
Early Saturday afternoon, Phelan said one car was still on fire, and crews were allowing the fire to burn itself off.
“It’s secure and we’re just allowing the product to burn off,” he explained. “The reason why we’re doing that is it’s unsafe to start fire surpression activities.
“It’s better off to allow it to vent off and burn than to put it out and have gas vapour that’s heavier than air sit down in low spots,” Phelan explained.
Watch: Parkland County Fire Chief James Phelan addresses the media Saturday:
Residents reported seeing a huge fireball shoot across the Yellowhead Highway, and a stretch of the road has been shut down.
Parkland County’s Facebook page states that Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16) traffic has been re-routed north along Secondary Highway 765, westbound along Secondary Highway 633 and returning southbound on Secondary Highway 757. This portion of the highway is expected to be re-routed for the next 24 to 48 hours.
Approximate map of highway closures
Evacuated residents are currently at the Entwistle Community Hall and are encouraged to stay with friends or family for the duration of the evacuation. About 90 residents have checked in at the community centre.
Phelan says residents will not be allowed to return home until crews are certain the area is safe. He expects that to take at least 24 hours, if not longer.
“I just grabbed the dog leashes and a water dish and some water, because I didn’t think we were going to be this long,” Brierley said. “My horses are still out there, and I haven’t been able to feed or water them since. So hopefully we can get back there so they can get some water and some breakfast.”
No injuries have been reported so far.
GALLERY: Massive tanker fire in Gainford, Alta.
A spokesperson with CN Rail says the line was inspected as recently as Thursday, and no problems were found.
The Transportation Safety Board is at the scene, as well as four fire districts, RCMP and Alberta Dangerous Goods.
Watch: Tom Vernon reports on the situation in Gainford:
With files from The Canadian Press.