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TISKILWA – Most residents evacuated from the northern Illinois village of Tiskilwa after a freight train loaded with highly flammable ethanol crashed and caught fire were let back into their homes Friday night.
The railroad says 26 cars on the 131-car train derailed, including seven to nine loaded with ethanol.
Residents reported hearing explosions early Friday morning after the cars left the tracks with bright orange flames and plumes of smoke that could be seen miles away.
Terry Madsen of the Bureau County Emergency Management Agency says about 700 to 1,000 residents of the town were evacuated after the accident early Friday.
Bureau County Emergency Management spokesman Les Grant said the evacuation of Tiskilwa, located about 80 miles southwest of DeKalb, was strictly precautionary.
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Maggie Carson says ethanol fumes are expected to burn off without long-term effects for residents.
Madsen says most of those kept away live in a small cluster of houses on the northeast side of town.
Officials say they expected firefighters to work to suppress the fire throughout Friday night.
Madsen says water and foam would be poured on seven burning rail cars and other derailed cars all night.
The National Transportation Safety Board says it is dispatching a six-person team to investigate the derailment.
It isn’t immediately clear how long the investigation may take.
Industry and federal railroad officials say accidents such as the one Friday are rare, last year involving 50 rail tanker cars out of roughly 316,000 total shipments.
Matt Hartwig of the Renewable Fuels Association trade group says as much as three-fourths of the 13.7 billion gallons of ethanol expected to be produced in the U.S. will be shipped by rail.
Hartwig says that’s largely out of necessity because pipelines aren’t close enough to ethanol producers to make that a practical transportation mode. He says the industry has been collaborating in recent years with emergency responders on how to effectively deal with such accidents.