GAINFORD, Alberta (AP) — Firefighters battling a major blaze after a Canadian National tanker train derailed west of Edmonton, Alberta, on Saturday have decided to withdraw and wait for the flames to burn themselves out. No injuries to people or livestock have been reported.
The latest derailment has raised more questions about rail safety that became a major issue after a runaway oil train derailed in a Quebec town in July, triggering explosions that killed 47 people.
Canadian National spokesman Louis-Antoine Paquin said 13 cars — four carrying petroleum crude oil and nine loaded with liquified petroleum gas — came off the tracks around 1 a.m. local time in the hamlet of Gainford, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Edmonton. Three cars began leaking and caught fire.
With no further explosions expected from the 13 cars, withdrawing the firefighters is the safest thing to do, said Parkland County fire chief Jim Phelan. Parkland County includes Gainford.
"This fire needs to be extinguished by consuming the product," Phelan said.
About 100 people from the village of Gainford were evacuated.
"It was a huge boom and the house started shaking," said Devon Cadwell, 15, who lives on a ranch just outside Gainford.
One resident told CHED radio he heard a series of crashes moments before seeing a "huge, huge fireball" shoot into the sky.
"The fireball was so big, it shot across both lanes of the Yellowhead (Highway) and now both lanes of the Yellowhead are closed and there's fire on both sides," said the witness, identified only as Duane.
No damage to homes or other private property was reported.
The train was travelling from Edmonton to Vancouver, British Columbia, Paquin said.
The Transportation Safety Board said it is sending investigators to the scene.
Questions about the increasing transport of oil by rail in the U.S. and Canada were raised in July after an unattended train with 72 tankers of oil rolled into the small Quebec town of Lac-Megantic near the Maine border, destroying the town's center. The rail company's chairman blamed the train's operator for failing to set enough hand brakes.
Greenpeace Canada warned that train accidents such as Saturday's derailment in Alberta will become the "new normal" unless the government tightens safety rules for shipping dangerous goods by rail.
Keith Stewart, the environmental organization's climate and energy campaign coordinator, said the federal government has taken some steps since July's devastating derailment in Lac-Megantic, but not enough to mitigate the risks.
He wants Ottawa to launch a comprehensive review of the safety regulations for transporting oil, whether by train or other means.
"Three years ago, there was almost no oil being moved by rail. It's been growing incredibly rapidly and it's projected to keep growing that way and the safety standards in Canada simply have not kept up to the new ways to move new kinds of oil," he said.
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